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Water again in violation, but error may be forgiven

Staff writer

Days after confusion over 2023 testing lapses was cleared up, Marion’s municipal water system once again has been found to have committed a “major” violation of testing standards.

The city’s latest violations — one major, one minor — were noted June 10 and involve testing that should have been conducted in April.

Although what were missing were tests for chlorine levels and contamination by coliform bacteria, which can be a serious health hazard, the violations were of a technical nature.

According to officials with Kansas Department of Health and Environment, water plant operators performed the required tests but mislabeled them. If the city can prove this, officials said, the violation may be expunged from the city’s record.

The city is required to take four coliform samples monthly, officials said Tuesday.

Coliform bacteria come primarily from human and animal feces and can cause water-borne illnesses such as upset stomach, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Children and the elderly are at greatest risk from the bacteria.

In April, four samples were taken as required, KDHE officials told the Record, but two were mislabeled as “special,” a term normally used for samples taken for projects like water line extensions.

KDHE communications director Jill Bronaugh told the Record plant operators did not respond to two separate inquiries regarding the “special” samples. Since no response was received, a violation for not taking all four required samples was issued.

That violation must be reported to water system consumers, but because it was considered a third-tier violation, the city has until May 31, 2025, to notify its water customers, Bronaugh said.

She said KDHE staff members eventually were able to talk to the Marion water plant worker who took the samples and confirmed that both samples were supposed to have been labeled “routine.”

She said state officials explained to the operator how sample bottles look almost identical but are designated for different purposes and told him to make sure he submitted paperwork saying “routine” rather than “special” when sampling for coliform in the future.

Since the required sampling was performed, she said, if Marion responds to an email asking to confirm the labeling mistake, KDHE staff will overturn the violations and the requirement that the public be notified.

“In summary,” she told the Record, “this was a labeling error. The sampler did four samples and incorrectly labeled two of them as ‘special’ samples when they were just ‘routine.’ The sampler then did not respond to a few emails, which led to violations. If he had responded, there would have been no violations. . . . Once he responds to the emails and provides proof, the violations and public notice request will be rejected.”

Marion has three water plant operators, only one of whom is certified by the state. He was not with the city in 2023, when earlier testing errors were noted. The two remaining operators recently attended a training session designed to help them prepare for the lowest level of water plant certification.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Mike Powers said he had instructed city staff to publicize on the city’s website and social media page the “good news” of the two operators’ “graduation” from that training session.

Last modified July 4, 2024

 

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