Q&A with Ed Hallock, Program Administrator for the Delaware Office of Drinking Water.

Water issues in Flint, Michigan have brought the issue of safe drinking water to the top of the national agenda. Ed Hallock, program administrator for the Delaware Office of Drinking Water, recently sat down and talked to us about what his agency does to ensure the safety of drinking water in the state.

With all the attention on Flint Michigan's water issues, many residents are wondering can it happen here. If no, why not? If yes, what are we doing to prevent it from happening?

Elevated lead levels in Flint’s drinking water were primarily the result of the city switching to a water source without introducing corrosion control chemicals into the water, and having a high number of lead service lines throughout the city. Lead is highly corrosive, and without corrosion control chemicals to coat the lead service lines, it allowed the lead from those service lines to leach into the water system. It is unlikely in Delaware because our water systems have far fewer lead service lines. In Delaware we also have a robust monitoring system in place for our water system to check for the presence of contaminants. Additionally, the primary source of childhood lead poisoning in Delaware continues to be exposure to aging, deteriorating lead-based paint (chips and dust), and not drinking water.

How often are water systems tested?

Depending on the contaminant, monitoring is done monthly, quarterly, annually or once every three years. Lead is monitored on a six-month, annual or triennial schedule.

What happens if they fail a test?

If contamination is confirmed then the water system must notify their customers, explain the violation, inform them of any actions they should take, tell them when they expect to return to compliance and provide a contact name and number.

What happens if they do not perform scheduled tests?

This is a monitoring violation which requires public notification and collection of the samples as soon as possible.

How does the state notify water users that there is a problem with the system they are using?

Systems are required to notify their customers themselves. Small systems hand deliver to their customers; larger systems may use radio, TV or newspaper, social media to inform their customers.

What is the process for correction that a system must use once a problem has been identified and how does the state monitor for compliance?

This will vary depending on the contaminant identified. Disinfection for bacteria, installing treatment, drilling a new well or interconnecting with a nearby system are options for chemical contaminants. Introducing corrosion controlling chemicals, replacing lines or installing new treatment plants are options for lead contaminants.

What should a user do if they suspect a problem with their water?

Users should contact their water provider and if not satisfied contact the Division of Public Health’s Office of Drinking Water.

What should a user do if they feel the operator of the water system is ignoring their concerns?

The user should contact the Division of Public Health’s Office of Drinking Water at 302-741-8630. Additional information about ODW is available at http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/hsp/odw.html.

In Flint, local, state and federal officials have all taken some blame for not acting more quickly. How does the state reduce or eliminate the "human error" part of the equation to ensure safe water?

Ensuring the safety of our drinking water for our citizens is central to the Division of Public Health’s mission of protecting and promoting the health and safety of all Delawareans. We must continue to have careful monitoring and work closely with the water management companies.

What is the one thing that you want residents to know about?

Overall the drinking water in Delaware is safe and monitored on a regular basis.