Many employees at the drinking water program retired when the pandemic hit.
A U.S. EPA report revealed that a Maryland office tasked with ensuring the safety of 3,300 public drinking water systems has too few inspectors.
The state employed 34 of the inspectors as of last year, which is 27% fewer than four years earlier, reported The Baltimore Sun.
The drinking water safety office is part of the Maryland Department of the Environment and would need to hire more than 80 additional inspectors and other staff to adequately handle its growing workload, according to an EPA consultant.
According to state environment department officials, the report has not raised concern about the quality of Maryland drinking water, said spokesman Jay Apperson in a statement, reported The Baltimore Sun.
Many employees at the drinking water program retired when the pandemic hit. The report was written by consulting firm Cadmus and was completed in May.
The report states that the drinking water safety division had experienced a steady decline in inspectors because of positions eliminated after retirements, hiring freezes and poor recruitment, reported The Baltimore Sun.
The division’s workload has increased and is expected to continue to grow because of increased responsibilities including: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) testing; lead in school water systems; Legionella bacteria in hospitals; harmful algal blooms; and the addition of about 350 new water systems to state oversight.
“At one time, MDE had a robust drinking water program and was able to go above and beyond the minimum federal requirements of program oversight, implementation, and enforcement,” said the report. “Due to declining resources, increasing demands, and the need to make cutbacks in areas considered lower-priority, MDE may not be able to meet the minimum requirements needed to maintain primary enforcement responsibility.”
If Maryland does not improve its regulation of the water systems, the EPA has the authority to take over control of those efforts.
In 2020, about 100 systems in Maryland had violations for lead or copper contamination, most of which have since been corrected. Additionally, 300 water systems around the state failed to properly monitor for fecal coliform, while 168 systems had one or more violations for monitoring of inorganic contaminants such as mercury or nitrate, reported The Baltimore Sun.