• Last modified 38 days ago (June 12, 2024)


Marion water quality violations appear hidden

Staff writer

Ignoring laws requiring customer-by-customer notification, the City of Marion instead has posted as an unannounced link deep within its website an annual water quality report indicating five “major” violations of testing standards.

The link, to a file maintained on an Amazon Web Services server, appears in the same “News” section of the site that for nearly two years touted construction of a new housing complex that already had lost grant money and been canceled.

Even the dates of the items posted are suspicious. One portion claims to have been posted May 1, another claims to have been posted June 1, and the date of the file itself shows it last was changed April 23.

State regulations require that all water customers be informed of the city’s annual water quality report via mail or direct delivery no later than July 1. Typically, this is done by including the notice in utility bills. Bills to be sent in advance of that deadline already have been mailed — without the water quality report — at a cost to the city of $1,100.

A secondary requirement is that the city make reasonable efforts to reach water consumers, such as renters, who might not receive water bills. This often has been accomplished by printing the report in the official city newspaper.

The report lists what it terms as five major violations of testing standards.

It states that the city failed to test for bromate for four consecutive months — April, May, June, and July, 2023 — and that it failed to test for haloacetic acids in the April through June quarter of that year.

Bromate can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Long-term exposure can result in tiredness, headaches, irritability, impaired thinking, personality changes, kidney damage, hearing loss, coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and anemia.

Haloacetic acids can irritate skin and eyes and in large quantities have been blamed for drowsiness, tingling of fingers and toes, and damage to the liver, testes, pancreas, brain, and central nervous system.

Both have been associated with an increased risk of cancer among children.

They are byproducts of disinfectants — ozone for bromate and chlorine for haloacetic acids. The city uses these disinfectants to rid Marion Reservoir water of contaminants including toxins from blue-green algae.

State regulators do not believe these unmonitored chemicals were present at anywhere near toxic levels even though no tests were performed to indicate precisely how prevalent they were.

Accompanying the annual report on the city’s website are two notices regarding “critical details about your drinking water.”

While revealing that mandatory samples weren’t submitted to the state, both seek to reassure residents there was no immediate risk necessitating more rapid notification of the problems.

The two notices state that they were distributed to water customers June 1.

This wasn’t the first time that Marion had failed to meet testing standards for bromate. It received similar violation notices showing lapses in testing in 2015 and 2017. At the time, the city blamed a testing company for failing to provide needed testing supplies.

Afterward, the city switched to a different company, Eurofins Easton, for testing. According to lists of bills paid by the city and included in packets to city council members, the city continued to pay Eurofins Easton $100 a month for bromate testing until December, 2022.

That was the last month for fired city administrator Mark Skiles and resigned city clerk Tiffany Jeffrey.

At the time, the city had no full-time certified water plant operators. The only full-time employee of the water plant was then-mayor David Mayfield’s son, Jeff, who was hired in April, 2022, and eventually became listed as a trainee but still has not received certification as a Class I (entry level) or II (more advanced) water plant operator.

Jason Wheeler, hired at the start of 2024, is certified as a Class II operator. His name and contact information were included in the original water quality report, created March 8 by Kansas Department of Health and Environment. However, the report posted on the city’s website was altered to instead include the name and contact information of public works director Tim Makovec.

After numerous attempts to contact officials with KDHE, deputy communications director Philip Harris declined to answer questions regarding whether the city was required to do more than post the report on a city website.

“One thing I can say with complete confidence is that no member of the city council, the city administrator or I have purposefully hidden any information,” mayor Mike Powers said. “This will be investigated. We will determine what happened and make any necessary changes. A formal statement will then be issued informing the public of the facts.”

Interim city administrator Mark McAnarney attributed last summer’s violations to a one-day delay in delivery of water samples to a state lab.

The city historically sent samples via overnight mail, McAnarney said, but KDHE now has arranged for a courier service to collect samples directly from city hall.

He said efforts were underway to address the training needs of Wheeler and Mayfield to ensure compliance with regulatory standards. He also pledged to engage in discussions with staff members to explore viable solutions for meeting the July 1 report deadline.

The City of Marion also sells treated water to homes at Marion County Park and Lake. The city’s violations also are listed in the consumer confidence report for Improvement District No. 2 at the county lake.

County Park and Lake director Isaac Hett said a copy of the consumer confidence report was posted on the bulletin board at the lake office by the improvement district.

Reporter Eric Meyer contributed to this story.

Last modified June 12, 2024