KHOU 11 News
Nov 13, 2010
HOUSTON—For more than 20 years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under-reported the amount of radiation found in drinking water provided by communities all across Texas. As a result, health risks to people consuming the water have been underestimated in many water systems where radioactive contaminants are present.
The TCEQ regulates water systems for compliance with federal safe-water drinking regulations. However, KHOU has learned the state regulating agency consistently took radiation readings it received from the water testing lab run by the Department of State Health Services and lowered the “official” radiation readings reported by the independent lab. The TCEQ would do this by subtracting off the margin of error for all radiation readings it would receive. The subtractions helped some utilities avoid radiation violations that could have forced them to clean up their water decades ago.
Harris County Municipal Utility District No.105 is one of those utilities that benefited from the TCEQ “math.” The utility did receive two official violation notices, in 2008 and 2009, for having too much radiation in the water supply it provides to thousands of residents. However, KHOU has learned the MUD would have exceeded federal regulations for radiation in its water as far back as 1988, had the state not subtracted off the margin of error for radiation readings.
The TCEQ confirmed in an e-mail to KHOU that MUD 105’s actual lab result in 1988 for radioactive alpha radiation came in at 17.6 picocuries (a scientific unit of measurement for radiation). The measured level came in above the federal legal limit of 15 picocuries/Liter (pCi/L) for alpha radiation in the water and would have triggered a violation.
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