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Q: In a recent Town of Payson water quality report it says the radon levels of our drinking water range from 315 to 7710 pCi/liter. If the maximum Environmental Protection Agency level for the state is 4000 pCi/liter, why is the town exposing its residents to levels twice as high when proper treatment devices could be installed on some of the well sites?

A: "What's happening is that the radon rule has not been finalized," Karen Probert, water quality specialist for the town, said.

It's apparently a time-consuming process that includes a public comment period. In the meantime, the town started testing for radon several years ago in preparation of the new guidelines.

"We found out some of our wells would exceed the maximum level," Probert said.

There is no need to push the panic button, she emphasized.

"Only about 1 to 2 percent of the total radon people are exposed to comes from water," she said. "Most comes from indoor air."

Therefore, it might make more sense to worry about having your home tested, a relatively inexpensive process that costs $20-$25.

"There's a lot of granite in this area, and that's a type of rock that can contain radon," Probert said.

While she says it is impossible to predict when the EPA might be ready to implement its new standards, it could happen sometime later this year. When it does, the EPA will most certainly include a time period that will give water departments and companies a chance to install the necessary treatment equipment for compliance.

Q: While we're on the subject of water quality, Payson Mayor Ray Schum asked us to answer a question raised by a resident at a recent town council meeting. The question: "Why is the town staff withholding information and jeopardizing public health by failing to report high levels of MTBE (a gasoline additive) in the town's drinking water?"

A: In a memo to the mayor and council addressing the charge, Probert said the 1,500 ug/1 (parts per billion) MTBE referred to by the questioner was obtained at a monitoring or sentinel well that Arizona Department of Environmental Quality uses to monitor the contamination plume near the town's Aero Drive treatment plant.

"These sentinel wells provide valuable data about the cleanup effort so that the state can evaluate how the contamination plume is moving, how water levels change over time, and how the PCE and MTBE can be most effectively and efficiently removed from the water," Probert wrote. "Sentinel wells are not production wells ... and they have not been used to supply drinking water to the public."

Furthermore, Probert emphasizes, "no MTBE has been detected in any of our groundwater production wells during extensive monitoring ..."

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