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Texas water scandal: state agency and officials hid radioactive contamination for years

by Tony Isaacs

(The Best Years in Life) Newly released documents and emails from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) show the agency's top commissioners directed staff to lower radiation test results for years in defiance of federal EPA rules. In addition, top state officials and the EPA knew about the agency violations but choose to take little or no action.

The startling revelations came as a result of an investigation by Houston television station KHOU, which obtained documents and emails after the state attorney general directed TCEQ to release them. Examination of the documents revealed a pattern of deception and cover-up which has gone on for almost 20 years. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Texas residents in the Texas Hill Country area served by the Hickory aquifer have been kept unaware that they have been drinking dangerously contaminated water.

"It's a conspiracy at the TCEQ of the highest order," said Tom Smith, of the Public Citizen government watchdog group. "The documents have indicted the management of this commission in a massive cover-up to convince people that our water is safe to drink when it's not."

A key part of the deception was TCEQ's decision to subtract the margin of error from water test results - though obviously it could have been just as valid to add the margin of error. The released documents show that subtracting the margin of error enabled TECQ to keep from declaring 35 water systems in violation of EPA standards. A formal violation declaration would have forced the water systems to inform residents of the increased health risks.

One example is Harris County Municipal Utility District (MUD) 105. Thanks to the TECQ margin of error subtractions, the utility was able to avoid violations for nearly 20 years. A TCEQ white paper from 2001 showed that water samples from TCEQ's reverse osmosis treated water in many water districts exceeded proposed safe levels for radioactive radium by up to 50 times. In one instance where water was treated by ion osmosis, the radium levels were a staggering 700 times the maximum safe level. Even very small amounts of ingested radium can cause cancer and other health problems.

On December 7, 2000, the EPA said in the federal register that states should not add or subtract the margin of error from test results. In 2004, the EPA warned Texas that if it did not stop the practice of subtracting error margins the EPA might take over the regulation of Texas water systems, but the warning proved to be a typically hollow one.

After the EPA's warning in 2004, the Texas Water Advisory Council issued its annual report to the speaker of the House, the lieutenant governor, and Gov. Rick Perry, saying: "However, this result (the loss of primacy) is unlikely. Of the 49 states with primary enforcement responsibility to administer their drinking water programs (Wyoming is not a primacy state), EPA has never withdrawn primacy status from any of them because the federal agency views both withdrawing primacy and withdrawing funding as options of last resort."

Making matters worse, the measurements taken by TCEQ have been taken before the water entered water pipelines. Thanks to years of high level radioactive contamination in the water, the pipelines had themselves become radioactive as had water tanks, residential pipes and hot water heaters. The contaminated pipes and tanks would obviously have contributed even more radioactive contamination to the water.

As an indication of how badly the radioactive contamination has been, the manager of a regional Hill Country scrap yard reported that he had to reject 3 out of every 4 water tanks, pipes, or other metal exposed to Hill Country drinking water because they are too radioactive for him to accept.

Thus far it is still unexplained whether the source of the radiation is entirely natural or whether or not there might be other sources such as industrial waste. Oil and gas rich Texas has long been known as an industry-friendly state which frequently turned its head away from pollution and contamination problems. However, it is far from the only state with such a history and, given the EPA’s pattern of lax enforcement, one has to wonder if what has happened in the Hickory Aquifer area of Texas is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drinking water radioactivity and safety nationwide.

Sources included:

See also:

Protective and Restorative Measures to Take in the Event of Radiation Contamination

About the author

Tony Isaacs is a member of the National Health Federation and the American Botanical Council. He is a natural health advocate and researcher and the author of books and articles about natural health including "Cancer's Natural Enemy." Mr. Isaacs articles are featured at The Truth About Cancer, the Health Science Institute's Healthiertalk website, CureZone, the Crusador, Health Secrets, the Cancer Tutor, the Silver Bulletin, the New Zealand Journal of Natural Health, and several other venues. In addition, he hosts the Yahoo Oleandersoup Health group of over 3500 members and the CureZone Ask Tony Isaacs - Featuring Luella May forum. He is also the local moderator of the CureZone Cancer Alternatives forum. Tony and his partner Luella May hostThe Best Years in Life natural health website where their motto is "It's never too late or too early to begin living longer, healthier and happier lives."



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