Civic News
Environment / Health / Municipal government

‘They’re not an accredited lab’: Philly Water Dept. responds to Tern Water test results

“They seem to not to understand EPA guidelines and take a lot of license,” said PWD Public Affairs manager Joanne Dahme.

Per PWD's results, Philly's tap water is well within federal and state guidelines for 100 contaminants. (Courtesy photo)

After published the results of Tern Water’s Know your Water campaign, the Philadelphia Water Department raised some concerns around the info on the startup’s report, which said 90 percent of samples contained some level of risky contaminants.

“First off, they’re not an accredited lab,” said Joanne Dahme, General Manager of Public Affairs for the city agency. “All results that relate to Environmental Protection Agency must come from accredited lab. They seem to not to understand EPA guidelines and take a lot of license.”

PWD customers, Dahme said, have called in with concerns after using the company’s test kits, to later find out that, per PWD’s test results, the water is safe to drink.

“We take a lot of pride in the fact that we deliver top quality drinking water, with levels that are always better than what the EPA recommends,” Dahme said.

The contaminants Tern Water reports having spotted on its mail-in sampling offering don’t match up with PWD’s latest yearly report on water quality in Philly. O’Connor also raised a concern with Tern Water’s methods: samples are not refrigerated in shipping, which might affect the accuracy of results.

O’Connor also dispelled the concern about Chromium-6, the Erin Brockovich contaminant: the results in Philadelphia have consistently been “well below” the maximum Chromium level established by the EPA. In its 2016 report, Philly’s water supply tested within 0 and 1 parts per billion (PPB). The EPA established the maximum level at 100 PPB.

However, in some cases internal plumbing can affect the quality, said Dennis O’Connor, from the agency’s Bureau of Laboratory Services. Especially when there’s concern due to the appearance, taste or odor in the water, PWD performs quality tests free of charge. There’s no online reporting tool, but O’Connor said customers with concerns about the quality of their water can obtain a test free of charge through its 24-hour hotline by calling 215-685-6300.

We reached out to Tern Water founder Mo Zerban who responded to the comments about Tern Water’s lab accreditation.

“All Know Your Water tests are done with lab certified equipment, and fully trained engineers,” the founder said in an email. “Ongoing validation of all lab equipment is conducted on a regular basis to guarantee accuracy. Our current business plan has us on schedule to have a fully accredited laboratory by the end of this year.”

Zerban agreed with the PWD that contaminants might be the result of point of access infrastructure issues.

“Our mission is to make sure that people are empowered to control their health and wellness through access to safe water,” the founder said.

Companies: Philadelphia Water Department

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