For the third time in the past 12 months, dissolved contaminants in the Monongahela River have spiked well above federal and state water quality standards for taste and odor, and the situation is expected to get worse.
The state Department of Environmental Protection announced yesterday that high levels of total dissolved solids, or TDS, in the river began showing up two weeks ago near the town of Crucible in Greene County. Since then, additional violations of the 500 parts per million TDS standard have been recorded in 46 miles of the river to Elizabeth in Allegheny County, where levels peaked on Saturday at about 600 parts per million.
“This is the second time we’ve noted high TDS levels this fall and that’s telling us that this is a problem,” said DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys. “We’ll be continuing to monitor the situation, but there’s no reason to think that levels will not go higher again. There’s no question we have a challenge before us.”
Last fall TDS levels exceeded water quality standards in more than 90 miles of the river and peaked at more than 900 parts per million.
The Monongahela River is the water supply for 350,000 people and the 11 public water treatment facilities that draw water from the river are not equipped to remove TDS, which is a measure of all elements dissolved in water, including carbonates, chlorides, sulfates, nitrates, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
For most, high TDS levels will make the water smell and taste bad and spot dishes and glasses but do not make an affected water source unsafe to drink. But individuals allergic to sulfates can be sickened, and the DEP has once again advised concerned residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking until river flows increase and TDS levels return to normal.
Sources of TDS include sewage treatment plants, drainage from abandoned and active mines, power plant scrubber and coolant water discharges and wastewater from oil and gas well drilling operations.
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