EDITORIAL - Water foul: West Virginia needs to learn some limits

Written by Susan Mannella on .

People in Western Pennsylvania are used to the notion of ambient air pollution -- harmful emissions that drift from one state to another. Why couldn't the same thing happen to water?

It does, unfortunately, as municipal authorities, industries and water customers along the Monongahela River know quite well.

Pennsylvania environmental officials have been charting a stubborn and mysterious problem in the waters of the Mon -- unusually high levels of total dissolved solids, microscopic contaminants that can enter a river from abandoned mines, agricultural runoff, wastewater from gas drilling or discharges from industrial or sewage plants.

TDS can cause bad-smelling and -tasting drinking water and problems for industrial water users. While for most people the water is safe to drink, it can cause allergic reactions in others.

Last year high levels of TDS were found in a 70-mile stretch of the Monongahela River that provides 325,000 people with drinking water. There were no reports of illness and tests did not show the water to be unsafe. But DEP recommended the use of bottled water for customers of 11 public water systems, especially those whose tap water smelled foul and tasted bad.

TDS continues to show up in the river to such a degree that the state Department of Environmental Protection has asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to set tough new limits on levels of the contaminants flowing in from West Virginia. That's welcome news.

While Pennsylvania has acted to limit the amount of TDS discharged in the state, readings last month on the microscopic particles spiked much higher as the water flowed in from its neighbor to the south. DEP Secretary John Hanger said because West Virginia will not take action on its own, he is compelled to ask the federal government for help toward getting some interstate cooperation.

West Virginia officials said they'll cooperate with DEP and the EPA to develop a better standard for such water contaminants. But seeing is believing, and Pennsylvania hasn't seen it yet.

Just as people in this state don't need to breathe Ohio's foul air, we don't need to drink the smelly stuff West Virginia sends downstream. It's time for the neighbors to start minding the water.


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