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Sandy mayor apologizes as drinking water ban is lifted

By Pat Reavy, KSL | Updated - Feb 17th, 2019 @ 8:00pm | Posted - Feb 17th, 2019 @ 10:38am

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SANDY — A "no-drink order" was lifted Sunday evening for all Sandy residents.

The city announced that the residents of 600 remaining homes who had been told not to use their tap water because of possible elevated levels of copper and lead were again safe.

"Results from 192 samples taken from homes around the area show that all levels of metals have returned to safe drinking levels," the city said in a prepared statement.

However, the city also noted there was one exception, and that one home that needed further inspection.

"One sample from a home tested higher than normal for lead. Samples from the homes on either side tested in safe drinking levels. The homeowner will be contacted directly and the home's plumbing system will be further investigated by Sandy City," according to the statement.

Earlier in the day, about 2,200 homes had been given the OK by city officials and the state to drink water out of their taps again.

Mayor Kurt Bradburn held a news conference Sunday morning to update residents on the drinking water situation, as well as issue an apology for not properly communicating with them about what was happening.

The mayor said he recognized "that there are so many things we can do better. I apologize for lack of communication that was felt amongst our residents. That is something we will address very quickly. We apologize, of course, for the tremendous inconvenience and health issues that this has caused."

Bradburn also announced he will hold a town hall on Monday to discuss the water situation at 7 p.m. at Mount Jordan Middle School.

The city has had approximately 150 residents report possible symptoms from drinking contaminated water, as well as a few dogs that have reportedly become sick. In one case, a 3-month-old baby was reportedly sickened.

The no-drink order was lifted about 9:30 a.m. Sunday for the area between 700 East and 1700 East, and 10600 South to 11400 South. Residents between 1700 East and 2000 East, and 10600 South to 11400 South had the restrictions lifted about 7:20 p.m.

"Results from 17 samples taken around the area show that all levels of metals have returned to safe drinking levels. Additionally, samples taken at Altara Elementary, Sunrise Elementary and Alta High School showed no elevated levels of metals," the city said Sunday morning in a prepared statement.

The investigation into the water began the evening of Feb. 6 when residents first reports a possible problem. Samples were taken the morning of the 7th, and by that afternoon it was confirmed there was an issue. The state said it was notified on Feb. 8.

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The problem on Feb. 6 was believed to have been caused by an inadvertent release of undiluted fluoride into Sandy's water system for about two days following a heavy snowstorm.

Friday afternoon, Sandy officials had announced that the water was safe to drink as long as systems were adequately flushed.

But less than 24 hour later, an advisory was issued to not drink the water until lab results determined the amount of lead and copper concentrations.

Utah Division of Drinking Water Director Marie Owens said the advisory was issued after test results taken from two homes from the prior week came back with lead levels 26 times higher than the point at which action is required, and copper levels 22 times higher than the level at which action is needed.

"We would consider those results to be significantly dangerous," she said.

Owens said the levels of lead and copper per liter may have even been higher at some point.

"Unfortunately, I don't think we'll ever be able to know exactly what the homes were exposed to during the 44-hour time frame that the fluoride event was happening. We can't go back and retroactively sample that," she said.

Slightly elevated levels of arsenic, aluminum, iron and manganese were also found in some of the samples, Owens said. But "our biggest concern still is elevated lead and copper exposure that could have happened last week during this event, and any ongoing impacts that homes may be receiving," she said.

Owens said the state and Sandy city officials have been testing both Sandy's water supply and individual homes. She said Sunday that there was no evidence that Sandy's water was delivering lead and copper into homes, meaning piping and fixtures within certain homes may have caused the elevated levels. Elevated fluoride content eats away at copper and lead fixtures, she said, leaching metal contaminates into the water. Over a long period of time, it could compromise the piping in a home to the point it would need to be replaced.

Owens said the state and city would be retesting the water frequently to confirm the threat had passed.

Some residents like Jodi Monaco, who lives in the one of the final areas to have the water ban lifted, said they were frustrated by what they say was a severe lack of communication by the city.

"We just haven't gotten that information yet and we're hungry for it," she said.

The water ban affected residents in more ways than just not having a glass of water to drink.

"I literally cannot wash my dishes right now, brush my teeth," she said before the no-drink order ended. "I can't give my dogs water. Anything out of the tap, because I still don't know how much contamination is coming into my household. I still don't know."

Monaco said she also wants to know if she'll have to replace the pipes and copper fittings that connect her kitchen sink.

"What condition are my pipes in right now? What condition is my water heater in now that I'm not going to be continually exposed? I just want to know. All of us just want to know."

Sandy City Councilman Steve Fairbanks acknowledged Sunday afternoon that many residents, even in the areas given the all clear, want their home water to be tested.

"The city is happy to pay for these tests and requests assistance from you in gathering water samples," he posted on social media.

Sandy is looking for volunteers on Monday to meet at City Hall between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. to receive training on how to take water samples in their homes.

On Saturday, it was announced Sandy had been cited by the Utah Division of Drinking Water for failing to adequately notify the public about potential contamination, along with a citation for exceeding safe fluoride levels.

Owens said water systems are required to notify the state within 24 hours of a significant event.

While Bradburn and Sandy Public Utilities Director Tom Ward each said Sunday they were working to improve communication with residents, Ward also believes that requirement with the state was met. He said information was being shared as quickly as test results were received.

"As each piece of that information was coming in we were sharing that. We're combing back through to make sure we met the statutorial requirements to get a formal report to the state. It's my belief we did that. But I need to make sure that I've got (those) records and the state has all documentation that it needs. To my knowledge, we haven't violated that reporting requirement. If we have, then I will own that," he said.

Ward said his people went door-to-door notifying residents in the affected area and left flyers on doors. He acknowledged, however, that not everyone was home.

Bradburn said he first learned on Friday that the water problem was potentially bigger than originally thought.

"Once I became aware this was more than just a localized event, which was how it was presented to me originally … it was sort of an all-hands-on-deck approach. We put everything out on social media. We activated our emergency protocol so we could literally take people door to door and make sure we spoke to them, gave them water, gave them the notice," he said.

"But the point is, we could have done that sooner. And that's what I deeply apologize on behalf of all residents that we didn't do that sooner."

Water stations remained available Sunday for residents still under the ban. Bottled water and water for livestock was available at 10600 S. 1300 East until weather in the afternoon complicated distribution, while bottled water was offered at the city's public utilities building, 9150 S. 150 East.

Contributing: Sean Moody

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Pat Reavy

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