Government House Briefing Reveals EPA Sequential Sampling Results, Data Anomalies Detected

Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion during the Government House Weekly Press Briefing on November 27, 2023.

U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – At the weekly Government House briefing on Monday, Communications Director Richard Motta announced that Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has received a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that indicates anomalies in EPA data that found elevated lead and copper in the water system in some areas of St. Croix in mid-October.

The EPA has been working collaboratively with the Water and Power Authority (WAPA) and the Virgin Islands government to test the quality of St. Croix’s potable water system.

Motta said Governor Bryan and members of the Territory’s unified command were informed late Wednesday evening of the results of the EPA’s early November sequential testing and shared those results. The comprehensive analysis indicated that concerns over widespread elevated levels of lead and copper in the water system may be unfounded.

“This finding aligns with initial assessments by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) and the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), suggesting anomalies in earlier data,” Motta said.

While some areas on St. Croix continue to experience water quality issues, primarily discolored water due to aging and deteriorating ductile iron pipes, the EPA’s initial elevated readings of lead and copper are now understood to be largely due to deviations from standard testing protocols, Motta said.

The initial sampling protocol, which focused on sampling at the meter rather than the tap to evaluate and assess the red and brown water, potentially introduced other contaminants into the sampled water.  The initial EPA findings reported on October 13 contradicted successful tests conducted by WAPA in September, under EPA protocols, which required testing for lead and copper at the tap.

Motta quoted Governor Bryan, who said the work of ensuring the safety of Virgin Islanders continues.

“The well-being of our community is paramount. While these results are encouraging, our work continues. We are actively collaborating with FEMA and other federal partners to refine testing protocols and ensure accurate assessments moving forward,” Governor Bryan said.  

As a result of the Virgin Islands government’s proactive stance, in addition to water sampling, the VI Department of Health has been conducting outreach and testing to determine baseline blood lead levels for St. Croix’s children ages 0-6. Children and pregnant woman are most affected by the presence of lead in drinking water.

Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion presented an update Monday on pediatric blood lead testing that is ongoing on St. Croix. Pediatric blood lead testing is free and so far has been

conducted with 550 children. Of that number, to date all pediatric blood level results have been negative or below the level of concern.

Commissioner Encarnacion also urged the public to comply with outreach workers who are surveying St. Croix residents to determine how they use public water and how the water quality emergency has affected them mentally and physically. Additionally, Commissioner Encarnacion urged residents to get vaccinated against flu, as flu season begins December 1.

Residents with health concerns related to lead exposure and testing may call the Department of Health hotlines at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519 and The Department of Planning and Natural Resources hotline for water sampling concerns at 340-514-3666 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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