Oklahoma University Wells Contaminated

The Oklahoma Daily Online
April 5, 2004

OU continued using unsafe wells
Water wells high in arsenic were used after officials were told they would not be
by Chris Terbrueggen – Daily Staff Writer

OU (Oklahoma University) continued to use water from wells with dangerous arsenic levels to provide campus water after state officials were told in 1996 that the university would stop doing so.

OU Physical Plant continued to pump water from one well until 2002 and the two other wells until 2000 after a university official told the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in 1996 that the wells would be taken out of service, according to DEQ water records of OU’s water system and water use records from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

The use of the wells is a grave public health problem and a violation of public trust, said Eric Olson, senior environmental attorney for the National Resource Defense Council.

“To say that you’re not going to use wells that threaten public health and then turn around within a matter of short period of time and start using the wells—contrary to what you have been telling health officials—I think is a profound health problem,” Olson said. “It’s compounded by the failure to tell the public what has happened without any public warning and apparently not telling the truth to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality at the same time.”

It would be a federal violation for OU to continue to use wells with dangerous arsenic levels without notifying the public, Olson said.

OU wells have some of the highest levels of arsenic in the United States, according to numbers published in 2000 by the National Resource Defense Council.

OU Physical Plant director Burr Millsap said OU would not use wells that have unsafe levels of arsenic in the public water supply and said he would investigate whether the wells were in use.

OU refused to disclose the pumping records for each well and any water samples taken after 1996 to 2001 in a reply to an open records request filed in January.

Water from the three OU wells, located with dangerous arsenic levels near Max Westheimer Airpark was used for the campus water supply, according Oklahoma Water Resources Board records.

The three wells had arsenic levels exceeding federal water quality standards in 1995, according to DEQ records.

The maximum allowable level of arsenic in a public water supply is 50 parts per billion, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

One well tested at 90 parts per billion in March 1995 and tested at 181 parts per billion in February 1996, according to DEQ records. The other two wells tested at 154 parts per billion in March 1995.

Because of the wells’ arsenic levels, OU was placed on the DEQ’s water quality violation list from October 1995 to April 1996, said Monty Elder, a DEQ spokeswoman.

A Physical Plant official told DEQ officials in February 1996 that OU would voluntarily stop using water from two of the wells, according to a letter signed by Morris Kinder, former Physical Plant director.

Kinder told state water quality officials in another correspondence that the third well would also be taken out of service, Elder said.

DEQ officials subsequently took OU off the violation list in April 1996, according to DEQ compliance memorandum dated May 1996.

DEQ officials believed that OU was taking the wells out of service, Elder said.

Judith Duncan, DEQ’s director of customer service, said OU has not been granted approval to use the three wells since the university said they would not use them in 1996.

Duncan said if there is proof that OU used the wells, DEQ officials would investigate the situation.



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