‘It’s in the water’: The truth about Steubenville’s water supply

BY JORDAN OTERO
Editor-in-Chief

For years, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s students have heard time and time again that Steubenville’s drinking water supply harbors various chemicals, hormones and contaminants.

However, according to both campus and city officials, Steubenville’s drinking water supply is completely safe.

“It’s natural that there are (contaminants) in the water because our water source is the river,” said Joseph McGurn, director of Physical Plant. “But students shouldn’t be concerned.”

In order to ensure that tap water is safe to drink, the federal Environmental Protection Agency prescribes regulations that limit the amount of certain contaminants allowed in water provided by public water systems. According to Steubenville Water Department’s 2013 drinking water consumer confidence report, the Steubenville public water system has consistently treated its source water — surface water drawn from the Ohio River — to meet these drinking water quality standards.

“We hardly have any contaminants,” said Joe Bottegal, Steubenville Water Filtration Plant’s laboratory technician. “The water is very safe. We test for everything and we pass 100 percent. The EPA is constantly on this stuff to keep the water as safe as you can keep it.”

Last semester, students in a field biology course used a portable water-testing device intended for use on streams to test tap water on campus. Their test revealed high levels of mercury and lead in the tap water.

“We treated it seriously,” said university spokesman Tom Sofio.

The university ordered extensive tests from MASI Environmental Labs, an independent water testing facility. The lab tested 35 water locations on campus, including lower campus and two homes in the area. Sofio said that all the samples “came back with a clean bill of health.”

“It was a reconfirmation that the water is safe to drink,” he added. “It helps to lay to rest any worries students might have.”

What about the longstanding rumors of hormones like estrogen in the water?

Bottegal said the city has never explicitly tested for hormones in the drinking water supply, but there has never been a problem in the surrounding areas. He said one of the only major contaminants in the drinking water supply is chlorine, which is used in the filtration process.

Still, students are wary of drinking tap water. Emily Graham, a senior, currently lives in Assisi Heights. She said there have been numerous times where the water has come out of her faucet cloudy, even though she uses a tap filter.

“It’s gross,” she said. “Even if I let the water settle like they tell us to, it’s still cloudy and tastes nasty. I shouldn’t be afraid of drinking my water.”

Freshman Emily Donahue said that all throughout her first semester last fall she was scared to drink tap water on campus because of rumors about high levels of estrogen in the water. This semester, Donahue chose to start using a Brita Water Filter, which she said puts her mind a little more at ease.

“I try not to think about it,” she said. “I definitely wouldn’t drink (the tap water) without a filter, though.”

Both Bottegal and McGurn noted that the cloudiness sometimes seen in Steubenville tap water is caused by compressed air in the pipes. It can usually be remedied by allowing an uncovered container to sit with the water for a few minutes.

Bottegal also suggested leaving an uncovered bottle or glass overnight in the refrigerator to remove the sometimes-odd taste of the tap water, which is usually caused by the chlorine used in the filtration process.

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