Pa. Water Plant Operators Risked Community Health

Actions taken by three Wellsboro, Pa., water treatment operators put the community at risk, according to a report recently released by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

That's why the DEP ordered Mark Diffenbach, director of public works, to surrender his operator’s certification to the agency for 90 days and fined him $1,000. Plant superintendent Daniel Brought was fined $500 and plant operator Rexford Cummings Jr. was fined $250. Both Brought and Cummings will be ordered to surrender their licenses for 30 days.

"This type of DEP enforcement is not typical for our agency, but the actions of these three individuals clearly required this type of punishment," Robert C. Yowell, Northcentral Region director, told the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. "They knowingly endangered the health of all authority customers, something that must not happen again in the future."

The three men committed repeated violations over many years that "had the potential to cause serious adverse effects on human health," according to the report.

In 2003, DEP received initial reports that insects were present in the community’s water. Upon closer inspection in September 2003, the agency found that unfiltered surface water had bypassed the treatment plant’s filters.

Of course, state law requires all surface water used for public consumption to be filtered. Unfiltered water can contain "many different disease causing organisms," according to the report.

The DEP said that Diffenbach "admitted that he was aware that the slow sand filters had been bypassed, at least during filter scrapings, for more than 10 years." That bypass resulted in unfiltered water being served to water system customers.

"Diffenbach admitted that he bypassed the filter on at least 12 different occasions between 2000 and 2003," the DEP said, adding that it was never notified by the borough that bypassing was occurring.

The agency found Diffenbach committed additional violations including: failing to collect daily water samples for iron and manganese from the Parkhill Reservoir; exceeding the permitted pumping rate of two wells more than 23 times between May 2000 and March 2004; and not adhering to the permit conditions for operation of the filtration plant.

The report said Brought’s violations were similar to those committed by Diffenbach. Cummings was found to have initiated the bypass in August 2003 without notifying DEP. That event allowed the insects to get into the water system.

Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

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