Class Questions Water Safety in Westchester

     MANHATTAN (CN) — The water supply for several of New York City’s suburbs has not meet federal and state environmental standards since 2012 and could contain potentially deadly bacteria, a man bringing a federal class action claims.
     “We don’t a repeat of Flint, Michigan,” attorney Steven Blau said in an interview Tuesday. “If people make some noise they might get some action, but if they don’t know about it they can’t make noise.”
     Blau represents Jeffrey Levin, of Scarsdale, who says several Westchester County municipalities violated a 2006 rule by the Environmental Protection Agency that requires the testing and treatment of public water systems to prevent contamination by cryptosporidium.
     Filed Monday in Manhattan, the federal complaint also alleges that the water district misled customers by failing to disclose the full terms of a 2015 consent order with the EPA over its failure to meet federal drinking water standards.
     Westchester’s Water District No. 1, which was created in 1964, services White Plains, Yonkers, Mount Vernon and Scarsdale. The district uses water from the Kensico Reservoir, which is unfiltered and open to the atmosphere.
     Under the EPA’s 2006 rule, public water systems were required to install additional testing and treatment protocols by 2012.
     Westchester’s failure to meet that deadline resulted in a lawsuit three years ago by the EPA.
     Though the county reached a consent decree in September 2015, committing to $1 million in fines, Levin says it has failed to develop interim testing and treatment measures that the settlement requires.
     The settlement also requires Westchester to built two new treatment systems by 2018.
     This past January, Scarsdale residents and their neighbors to the north in White Plains received letters informing them that for a two- to three-month window water could contain high levels of the dangerous microbial pathogen cryptosporidium.
     Those letters say ongoing testing “has not detected any cryptosporidium exceedance” in the municipalities’ drinking water, but they advise the elderly, those with children, and those with “severely compromised immune systems” to seek medical advice before drinking public water.
     Levin’s attorney Blau, of Huntington, N.Y., noted that Westchester officials notified residents only when they were legally required to under the 2015 consent order.
     “If they didn’t have that judgment in place, they would be hiding that information from people,” Blay said.
     A spokeswoman for Westchester County has not returned an email seeking comment.
     The class seeks damages plus an injunction that keeps Westchester County’s District No. 1 water supplier from charging residents in the four affected municipalities full price for drinking water until the water district complies with the federal safety rule.
     Cryptosporidium, which is transmitted through surface water and is resistant to chlorination, can lead to cryptosporidiosis. The disease causes diarrhea, nausea and even death among those with weakened immune systems, and it is considered untreatable. Some research suggests the pathogen can cause stunted growth among children.
     Cryptosporidium outbreaks have been reported in poorer, rural areas. An outbreak of cryptosporidiosis that hit Milwaukee in 1993 has been called one of the largest waterborne-disease outbreaks in the United States. More than 400,000 residents fell ill with the disease’s symptoms, and more than 100 deaths were attributed to the outbreak.

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