“DO NOT INGEST WARNING”
Those four words, all in capitals, were supposed to be sent out to every home affected by the Sandy water crisis on Feb. 8, when the city first warned residents in fifty homes that their water supply may be tainted with what we now know was a toxic level of fluoride.
The Department of Environment Quality (DEQ), when it was first notified of the water contamination, sent an e-mail to Director Tom Ward and his Sandy City Public Utilities team instructing them that they had 24 hours to notify residents of the contamination. DEQ Director Marie Owens had provided Sandy City with her own draft of the notice.
In bold letters, she’d warned: “This language is mandatory.”
But the letter that Sandy City sent out that day didn’t say “DO NOT INGEST”; nor did it contain the warning, included in the DEQ’s draft, that would have told residents that the contaminated water could corrode their pipes.
That decision has been one of the greatest controversies in the wake of the water crisis; in fact, it’s cited as one of the city’s failings in the administrative order the DEQ issued against the city on Thursday.
So far, Sandy City has taken most of the blame for this decision.
New evidence uncovered by KSL through GRAMA, Utah’s public records law, however, shows that members of the DEQ and the Salt Lake County Health Department were sent copies of the changed notice, with “DO NOT INGEST” removed, before it was finalized.
Who changed the DEQ’s notice?
Tom Ward has taken most of the heat for the Sandy Water Crisis. So far, he is the only person involved to have suffered direct consequences, having been placed on administrative leave while it is investigated.
In an interview with KUTV, however, Ward claimed that the decision to tone down the notice wasn’t the city’s alone. Instead, he said, it was the result of collaboration between the city, the state and the health department.
That would imply that the DEQ was involved in the decision, something Owens has directly denied. In an interview with KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic, she claimed that she was not informed that the notice she sent the city had been changed.
“That language was in the order that we directed Sandy City to give out on February 8th,” Owens said, “and Sandy City informed us that they had delivered that.”
Since that conversation, however, KSL has obtained copies of Ward’s e-mails during the Sandy Water Crisis, and his communications with Owens appear to contradict her claim that she was not made aware of the changes.
One hour after Owens sent Ward her draft of the notice, KSL has discovered, Ward e-mailed her and Salt County Health Department Environmental Health Director Royal DeLegge the modified version of the notice with the “DO NOT INGEST” line removed.
In that e-mail, Ward specifically invited Owens to call him any time of the day or the night if she had any concerns with the notice.
Ward waited thirty minutes after sending the modified notice to Owens before sending it to the city. When he sent the finalized notice, with the “DO NOT INGEST” warning removed, to Sandy City Mayor Kurt Bradburn and other city officials, he wrote:
“The notice also meets our State Division of Drinking Water and Salt Lake County Health notice requirements, who worked with us in our response.”
KSL Newsradio is currently trying to contact Marie Owens for comment on this discovery. We will update this story as it develops.
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