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Westmoreland water authority will test chlorine alternative in McKeesport

Rich Cholodofsky
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Carolyn Rogers | Tribune-Review
Inside the Indian Creek Water Treatment Plant on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

A small-scale treatment plant will be built at the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s McKeesport facility to test a new chemical additive that officials said could improve the taste and smell of the system’s drinking water.

The authority will spend $170,000 to construct the mock treatment plant that will serve only as self-contained test system to study the impact of adding peracetic acid to the water.

Officials said the chemical is seen as a safer alternative to chlorine, which is added to disinfect water during the oxidation and treatment processes before it is released to customers.

“It is going to reduce the taste and odor complaints typically associated with chlorine,” said Jack Ashton, the authority’s assistant manager.

The authority currently uses chlorine both prior to and after drinking water is treated.

Peracetic acid is currently used to treat drinking water in Texas and Kentucky, but has not been approved for use in Pennsylvania, Ashton said. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has approved the municipal authority to test the chemical locally but has not authorized it to be added to water distributed to the public.

To test the chemical, the authority will build a small, identical version of its McKeesport plant to simulate the water treatment process and monitor the water over the next year to determine that it is safe to drink.

State officials could approve its use for water sold to customers next year, Ashton said.

The authority’s McKeesport plant provides water to about 35,000 residents in Allegheny County. If the chemical is approved for use, those customers would be the first to receive water treated by the new process, likely in mid-2020, Ashton said.

The authority could then seek approval to use the chemical at its larger plants in Connellsville and at the Beaver Run reservoir site in northern Westmoreland County. Water from those plants serve most of the authority’s customers in Westmoreland, Fayette, Indiana and Armstrong counties.

Ashton said systemwide use of peracetic acid could come in early 2021.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]