JEFFERSON CITY--The Missouri Safe Drinking Water Commission is poised to vote next week on a proposal to weaken the state's public notice rules under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The proposal would effectively legalize the numerous violations by Missouri State Parks that jeopardized the health of sensitive park visitors, as detailed last May in an analysis by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The PEER analysis, taken from EPA data, shows that 15 of the 25 Missouri state parks listed as active public water systems have had at least one major health-based violation in their history. Lake of the Ozarks State Park, in particular, has repeatedly failed to notify the public of chronic drinking water contamination problems. In June, July and August of 2002, that park's drinking water was found to be contaminated with coliform bacteria. Each time, the park failed to notify the public of the problems, despite federal regulations requiring that customers be notified within 30 days.
The rule change, promoted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), would replace existing public notice standards with a much weaker rule, eliminating a major appendix that defines "nonacute" violations. Without the appendix, contamination at Lake of the Ozarks State Park would not necessarily require public notification at all. Nonacute contamination includes types of bacteria that generally do not make an average person sick; however more sensitive individuals, including infants, the elderly, people with HIV/AIDS, or those undergoing chemotherapy treatment, may become ill after drinking the water.
"DNR needs to meet the health needs of all Missourians," commented PEER's National Field Director Eric Wingerter. "The most susceptible individuals are precisely the people who have a right to know when their drinking water is polluted."
Wingerter noted that DNR's Public Drinking Water Program had done a thorough job documenting past violations and reporting them to EPA. "Why the same agency would undercut this crucial work is a mystery to me," he concluded.
The Missouri Safe Drinking Commission will vote on the proposed rule change on Thursday, July 24 at the DNR Conference Center at 1738 East Elm Street in Jefferson City. The meeting begins at 10:00 a.m.