Liberty Hill: TCEQ was wrong about high radium levels in drinking water

Investigations

Liberty Hill, TEXAS (KXAN) — The city of Liberty Hill announced late Monday afternoon the radium levels in the drinking were never too high.

This comes after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sent a violation notice to the city after Quarter 1 testing, indicating there was an unhealthy amount of radium associated with one of its oldest wells.

The city subsequently sent required letters to its 680 residential water customers last week informing them of the unhealthy levels of radium, which is now incorrect.

Patti Hixon with Buie & Co. Public Relations told KXAN, “The City of Liberty Hill heard from TCEQ today that they were mistaken in their calculations. Liberty Hill’s radium levels were within the permitted parameters and therefore not in violation at any point this year.”

Hixon said the city is requesting an official notice from TCEQ regarding its error, and will provide it to water customers as soon as possible. She added the notification could take several days.

“Well, this would be good news,” said Jen Zandt, a Liberty Hill water customer.

She was highly concerned for her family after receiving a letter in the mail last Thursday from the city notifying them about the risk of cancer that comes with drinking water containing high levels of radium. Zandt recently lost her father-in-law to cancer, and said her mother-in-law is currently fighting brain, lung and bone cancer.

TCEQ Media Relations Specialist Brian McGovern sent the following response:

Compliance for the radium maximum contaminant level is calculated on a quarterly basis using a running annual average due to the long-term health effects of the contaminant. Compliance is not based on a single sample result and the RAA is calculated utilizing the most recent four quarters of data at an entry point to the distribution system. The EPA set the MCL for combined radium at 5 picocuries per liter (pCi/L).

TCEQ has determined that the compliance value associated with the first quarter 2019 violation was calculated in error. Based on TCEQ’s review of all of the city’s sampling data for radium, it was discovered that the calculation to determine compliance with combined radium did not include all of the city’s previous sample results. Once all the sample results were included in the compliance calculation, the compliance value was 4 pCi/L which is below the MCL of 5 pCi/L for combined radium. After notifying the city of the data error, the violation was rejected and was removed from the TCEQ’s database.

The city of Liberty Hill said the well it shut down as a result of the radium scare will remain offline. It’s one of the city’s older wells, and officials will continue looking for a new well site.

The city has four other wells and gets additional water from Leander. Hixon said the city has more than enough water to meet the demand.

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