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Mon River no longer belongs on ‘impaired’ quality list, DEP says

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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Ben Lloyd paddles up the Monongahela River near the Birmingham Bridge on the South Side on Friday, April 25, 2014. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced that water quality on the Mon has improved to the point it’s recommending taking it off the “impaired” list.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says the Monongahela River’s sulfate contamination dropped enough to recommend removing it from its “impaired” list.

Sulfate levels in the Mon meet Pennsylvania water quality standards — below 250mg per liter — because companies are treating acid mine drainage, the main source of the contaminant, DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said on Friday.

“Companies are doing a better job of addressing the issue,” Witman said. “They are treating their acid mine drainage and enhancing their water management.”

The recommendation is listed in the DEP’s Integrated Waters Report released on Friday. Issued every two years, it’s a report card on the state’s rivers and streams.

Two other impairment classifications remain in effect on the Mon, Witman said. In 2004, the DEP limited carp consumption to one meal a month along the Pennsylvania stretch of the Mon from the mouth of the Ohio River to the West Virginia line, because of PCB contamination. Several other fish, including channel catfish, white bass, sauger and walleyes, are targeted for limited consumption in the Braddock area.

In 2002, the DEP declared drinking water impaired because of pathogens, including bacteria, resulting from sewage runoff between the Ohio River and the confluence of Turtle Creek near Kennywood.

The DEP in 2010 declared Mon River drinking water impaired because of sulfate. There haven’t been reports of levels above the state standard in a couple of years, Witman said, and just a few reports of higher levels after the designation.

Much of the sulfate contamination is from upstream sources, Witman said, though she did not identify locations. The river, about 130 miles long, originates in Fairmont, W.Va.

More than a dozen water companies draw water from the Mon and filter the sulfates, Witman said.

Pennsylvania American Water considers DEP’s announcement “a great vindication of the efforts by regulators and watershed stakeholders to improve conditions along the Monongahela River,” said company spokesman Gary Lobaugh. The river supplies water for 210,000 customers in Allegheny and Washington counties, he said.

The decision “may enable Pennsylvania American Water to reduce chemicals used throughout our treatment process,” Lobaugh said.

Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, said more work needs to be done to protect the river, including aquatic life.

“The designation triggers the DEP to take steps to reduce discharge and clean up the waterway,” Arnowitt said. “It’s a concern if you lift the designation.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or [email protected].

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