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Report: 30,000 residents' water exceeds radioactivity standards

Associated Press
Boulder Daily Camera
April 28, 2008

DENVER -- About 30,000 Coloradans are drinking tap water that violates new federal standards for radioactive contaminants, state records show.

The Denver Post reported Sunday that 37 water systems are exceeding the standards adopted in January by the Environmental Protection Agency.

They range in size from a couple dozen customers in a trailer park to 14,000 people in Sterling.

Health officials said they have found no higher disease rates in those communities, but they defended the tougher standards.

"Just because we have not identified specific health impacts in any specific communities does not imply the new standards are wrong," said Ned Calonge, the chief medical officer for the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Calonge said it's difficult to spot higher-than-typical levels of disease when the diseases are rare and the populations so small.

"The increased risk is small but real," he said.

State and federal grants totaling nearly $900,000 are helping the water systems pay for tests and engineering studies.

But the cost of upgrading a water system to bring the levels into compliance can be staggering, said Jack Rycheky, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency's regional drinking water program in Denver.

"When you've got a couple million customers tied in, you can afford treatment," he said. "But if you have 100 people ... treatment is very expensive."

Sterling City Manager Joe Kiolbasa said the city has received estimates ranging from $4.5 million to $12 million to install a treatment system that would remove radioactive minerals.

He said the city would also have to pay to dispose of the radioactive sludge or salt that treatment would generate.

Sterling is waiting for the results of state testing before deciding what to do.

State officials say they hope to help water systems find grants and loans next year to make upgrades.




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