By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief, shessinger@republicanherald.com
The REPUBLICAN & Herald, © 2006

March 18, 2006

TAMAQUA — The Tamaqua Area Water Authority will begin weekly lead testing of both treated and untreated water in the borough’s Still Creek Reservoir.

Announcement of the precaution comes one week after experts told officials a 2004 test revealed lead levels in samples of untreated water in the reservoir to be nearly five times the federal drinking water standard. “Like we said at the meeting, we plan to do the additional testing,” Borough Manager Kevin A. Steigerwalt said.

Officials have repeatedly said, however, that testing at the tap has consistently met all required regulation and has been reviewed by state officials, including those from the Department of Environmental Protection.

“I spoke with one of the guys that we deal with at DEP and he said, ‘We’ve seen all your results. They meet the standards,’ ” Steigerwalt said.

Last week, however, at a meeting in the office of state Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, environmental consultants Edward Shoener and Robert Gadinski said the study used last year to calm concerns about the reservoir instead shows cause for concern.

At that meeting, Gadinski, a former DEP hydrologist supervisor, and Shoener, president of Shoener Environmental Services, Moscow, Pa., said samples of raw water tested by Benchmark Analytics, a Center Valley firm, showed lead levels of more than 70 parts per billion, well over the 15 part per billion federal limit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site warns that exposure to lead can result in a range of health problems, from stomach distress to brain damage.

The agency’s Web site estimates that 20 percent of human exposure to lead occurs through drinking water. “The lead level needs to be examined,” Shoener told officials at Friday’s meeting, saying the level was much higher than levels typically found even in untreated water.

This week, Steigerwalt said he had instructed water filtration plant manager Jeff Post to make the necessary arrangements with Pottsville Testing Lab, Palo Alto, with which the authority usually contracts for outside water testing.

Concerns over the reservoir began in mid-2004, when the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a local environmental group, announced that three people living along Ben Titus Road, Rush Township, had been diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera, a rare blood cancer.

Local West Penn Township physician Dr. Peter J. Baddick said that number has grown to nearly a dozen, including some patients within the borough, raising further questions among community leaders and environmentalists about drinking water quality.

In September 2004, Tamaqua borough council and the Tamaqua Area Water Authority discussed testing of the Still Creek Reservoir, which borders Ben Titus Road and is just over a mile from the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site.

The testing, completed in December by Benchmark Analytics, was not released until January of the following year and immediately fell under scrutiny.

At the meeting Friday, Baddick and another clean environment advocate Joe Murphy, Hometown, told officials thousands of gallons of beryllium, paint sludge, cyanide and other contaminants were dumped at the McAdoo Associates site over the years before a federally mandated cleanup.

Murphy and Baddick said underground storage tanks at a Blaine Street location in McAdoo had also leaked in close proximity to local groundwater.

The announcement of additional testing comes the same week as a two-day boil water advisory for Tamaqua customers, unrelated to water quality concerns.

The advisory, which was in effect until Friday morning, was a precautionary measure as efforts are made to re-route water in a main supply line entering the borough of Tamaqua through a newly constructed water line along Schuylkill Avenue.