As residents grow anxious over water quality, Steelton leaders start long-term fix

STEELTON, Pa. (WHTM) – A Dauphin County borough is investing millions into what officials there hope is a permanent fix for persistent water quality issues in its municipal supply.

The borough says despite repeated EPA violations, the water coming out of its pipes is safe. A lot of people don’t buy it and are instead buying their own supplies.

“It reaches the point of anxiety,” Rodica Mihalis said. She’s lived with water quality notices as long as she’s lived in the borough.

The latest, dated April 3, explains that once again the borough’s water tested above EPA limits on disinfection byproducts. Residents have been getting similar notices on and off for years.

The notice stresses no one needs to buy a bottled supply, that the tap water is safe to drink. The notice states anyone concerned should consult with a doctor. Read the full notice here.

Mihalis isn’t taking any chances; she has auto-immune disorders. EPA research shows the byproducts, “if consumed in excess of EPA’s standard over many years, may increase health risks.

“Of course I cannot risk it,”Mihalis said. “I mean, unless I want to slowly die a peaceful death.” The retiree has been buying bottled water on her fixed income.

“The water is absolutely safe,” Steelton Water Authority Board chair Allan Ausman said. “I drink it.”

Steelton has dealt with this issue for years. Ausman remembers questions about the byproduct levels when he first started on the board four years ago.

The borough, like many others in the Midstate, gets its raw water from the Susquehanna River. That water has tiny organisms in it that react with chlorine and create byproducts when the disinfectant chemical is added at the end of filtration.

“To address all of the issues proactively, this is the result of that, this soon to be huge chlorine tank,” Ausman said, motioning to a massive concrete pad built at the borough’s water treatment plant.

The tank, for which borough leaders took out a $3 million low-interest loan, will disinfect the water at the beginning of the process instead of the end. Ausman said that will eliminate the byproducts.

Construction should wrap up by the end of September.

Meanwhile, Mihalis doesn’t want to have to keep paying for water she doesn’t use. “I’m not on a large fixed income,” she said, “and it is frustrating.”

ABC27 asked about the borough possibly reimbursing people like Mihalis who are concerned for their health. Borough Manager Doug Brown said that’s unrealistic because they need people to pay their bills to pay down the loan for the tank.

Currently, the borough doesn’t anticipate having to raise rates anytime soon to pay for it, but that relies on customers continuing to pay their share.

Ausman said he had not heard any proposals for that kind of water bill relief and said he’ll bring it up to start talking about it.

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