MERIDEN — Officials say the city’s drinking water is safe, despite what city water customers might have thought upon receiving a letter with their monthly water bill in early June.
That letter read “Monitoring and Reporting Violation” in bold. It advised water customers that the city failed to conduct timely monitoring and reporting of its drinking water supply to the state Department of Public Health, per state regulations. The letter goes on to state that despite the late submission of collected water samples, none of the samples that were eventually tested were found to have levels of lead or copper that exceeded action levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Robert Peter, the Superintendent of Operations for Water & Wastewater, explained what triggered sending the letter and again provided assurances that the city’s drinking water is safe.
Peter said the letter had to be sent because the city was unable to collect the number of water samples required for testing before its September 2022 deadline. Once the testing was completed, it showed levels of lead and copper that were either undetectable or well below EPA action levels.
“I think that raised a lot of questions,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said of the notifications. “It obviously raised some concerns and fears that I wanted to make sure we were able to dispel, by having the water department come before us to talk about what actually occurred and put people’s minds at ease.
“Rest assured that the water here in Meriden is in fact safe. Tests did occur. We just missed the mark on timing,” the mayor said.
Peter provided an overview of the city’s sampling collection program. Annually, the city needs to get 30 samples collected from residential homes that meet the DPH’s requirement as qualified sites, he explained.
“They have to be appropriate sites, because they have to have the potential of having lead and copper in their pipes or being built that way. So it’s not just anybody we can pick,” Peter said.
The homes qualified for sample collections need to have been built between 1982 and 1987. Peter said the city has a list of 84 candidate residences. Out of those 84, the city has been able to scrimp by with samples collected from 30 homes, he said. City officials sent letters and bottles for collecting samples to those homes. In the September collection cycle, the city missed its deadline by a week, Peter said.
“That was the violation. There was nothing above the action levels for any pollutants, lead or copper. But we did get it in late. It was nothing health related,” Peter said, adding it was the reporting that was insufficient.
“The water is still top notch,” Peter said, adding this was the reason why the city previously was able to reduce the number of times each year it must collect samples as well as the number of residential samples it needs to collect. That number was reduced from 60 to 30. Instead of collecting samples every six months, the city was able to do a once annual collection.
But as a result of the violation, DPH officials raised the number of samples that must be collected back to 60, and reinstated the twice-annual testing.
The Record-Journal contacted DPH regarding the violation. Department spokesman Christopher Boyle confirmed the city was issued a violation for its “failure to collect the total number of required samples in 2022” under state regulations.
“Meriden was required to collect 30 samples annually during the sample collection period from June 1st to September 30th in 2022,” Boyle wrote. “Meriden only collected 28 of the 30 samples during the collection period.”
Subsequently, the monitoring and reporting violation was issued, Boyle wrote. He added the city “will be eligible for reduced monitoring” following the completion of two consecutive monitoring periods, which show samples that meet the water quality regulation standards.
On Monday night, Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona asked Peter how often municipalities do not meet their sample quotas.
Peter said he is not sure how common it is. “It was the first time we didn’t meet the quota.” He described previous challenges collected samples over the summer due to residents’ vacation schedules. So local leaders pushed the collections to September with the belief that residents, particularly those with school-aged children, would be available to provide samples by then.
Councilor Michael Rohde asked about protocol for communicating matters like the violation that occurred.
Peter said the notification was not related to a health hazard, which is why it wasn’t sent out immediately to residents. “If it was a health concern, we would tell you right away, ‘Boil your water. Don’t drink your water.’ You would hear that immediately.
“It had nothing to do with the quality of water… We still have really good water going through the system,” Peter said.
City Manager Timothy Coon similarly described the matter as an administrative issue, which had no effect on health. Coon also noted that the notification that went out to residents came out before city officials were able to alert the council and Scarpati.
Councilor Ray Ouellet asked Peter what steps would be taken to prevent the delayed collection from happening again.
Peter explained that the city has a list of 85 additional residences that have yet to be approved as sample sites. He said that the city has multiple sources for its drinking water and must represent “each corner of the city.” Having sites in reserve this time will be “a way to prevent this from happening again.” Another way is to get an earlier start on collecting, regardless of residents’ potential vacation plans.
Scarpati said the letter contained language he felt was “alarming” and unnecessary.
“I think the letter did more harm than good in clarifying what [the violation] was. Obviously that is why we’re having this conversation tonight,” Scarpati said. “...What it all led to was a breakdown about a year ago in our ability to get samples needed to the lab and turned around in a timely manner. It comes down to our administrative teams to ensure that we’re accountable to our rate payers, our taxpayers. That is who we let down in this instance.
“I look at it as a case of luck that we didn’t have any alarming test results,” Scarpati said, later adding, “ At the end of the day, I appreciate and applaud the efforts of the water department to ensure our residents are drinking safe water… We don’t tell our residents that enough.”