The drinking water supply at Old Faithful is tainted with trace levels of arsenic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the EPA warned Yellowstone National Park officials last week that the public water system was in violation of the national Primary Drinking Water Regulations for having “noncompliant” levels of arsenic, an element linked to many longterm complications, including cancer, blood vessel deformity, and skin disorders.
EPA Water Enforcement Program Director Arturo Palomares wrote to National Park Service Regional Director Sue Masica that, in light of the violation, the Park will have to submit and carry out a plan to bring arsenic levels down to comply with drinking water regulations. From the JHN&G:
The violation notice shows that Yellowstone was barely out of compliance with federal standards.
The maximum level of arsenic allowed is 0.010 milligrams per liter [or 10 parts per billion], whereas samples from the Old Faithful water system tested at a concentration of 0.011 milligrams per liter. The noncompliant samples were gathered from the second quarter of 2015 through the first quarter of 2016.
For the next 60 days Yellowstone will be in a “holding pattern,” after which they’ll have to provide the EPA with a plan for bringing the water system back into compliance, said Kimberly Pardue-Welch, the agency’s regional team leader for the drinking water enforcement program.
“In general we would require some sort of treatment,” Pardue-Welch said.
The EPA staffer said that she’s not sure of the particulars of Yellowstone’s situation but that oftentimes arsenic is a natural byproduct of geology. It can also be introduced to water supplies from industrial activity or agriculture.
The Old Faithful water system, classified as a “public” and “community” water source, is fed by a surface intake from the Firehole River. Its 36 connections in the Upper Geyser Basin area serve 150 year-round residents and another 1,500 to 2,000 people daily during the peak summer season, according to the EPA’s notice.
Pardue-Welch was unaware where the arsenic-rich water was gathered. Generally samples are taken from a number of different locations in the water system.
Yellowstone officials have recently increased sampling of the Old Faithful water supply, park spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said.
“Based on those samples and tests, we know that right now we are well under the limit,” she said. “We understand there is really not short-term danger for visitors, but we also recognize that there is the potential for long-term danger if the issue is not corrected, and we are working to correct it now.”
Maintenance staff, Warthin said, is investigating changes in the chemicals used to improve arsenic removal.
Warthin added that she, and other Park officials, were surprised to receive the noncompliance notice, saying it was “the first time we have gotten a reading of this nature.” As mentioned, arsenic is found naturally in soil and bedrock.
If Yellowstone doesn’t meet the EPA’s standards after the 60-day holding pattern and after submitting a new plan for water treatment, they may face thousands in fines.