Texas Environment Commission Changed Test Results to Hide Radiation in Water

Friday, November 26, 2010
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) spent two decades under-reporting radiation levels in local water supplies, which helped water districts avoid fines, but exposed residents to potentially harmful radioactive elements.
 
An investigation by KHOU news in Houston found hundreds of water providers near the Gulf Coast that delivered drinking water containing radioactive contaminants, all with the blessing of state officials, using a reporting method that came to be known as “Texas math.”
 
At the center of the controversy was TCEQ’s manipulation of water-testing reports from the Department of State Health Services. When given a range of possible radiation levels in a water supply, TCEQ officials automatically went with the lowest possible figure based on the margin of error. This practice went on until 2009, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered what TCEQ was doing and told it to stop.
 
Alpha particles from uranium, radium and other minerals appeared repeatedly in water-testing reports compiled by TCEQ. “The alpha particle—this is the 800-pound gorilla of radioactive particles,” Dr. David Ozonoff, an environmental health professor and chair emeritus of the Boston University School of Public Health, told KHOU. “The word that comes to my mind is ‘cover-up’.”
 
Approval of lower radiation figures by the state allowed water districts to avoid being cited for having too much radiation in their water. This happened to Harris County Municipal Utility District No.105 (MUD 105), which dodged fines going back as far as 1988 because of TCEQ’s actions.
 
For example, in 1988, MUD 105’s measurement for alpha radiation came in at 17.6 picocuries at a time when the federal legal limit was 15. Because the margin of error was 5.3, the actual level could have been as high as 22.9 or as low as 12.3. TCEQ reported the level as 12.3, implying that this was the measured level rather the real measured level of 17.6. If TCEQ had not done this, MUD 105 would have been fined for exceeding the legal radiation limit in at least 12 different years. Instead, it was not cited until 2008.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
 

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