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St. Croix Water Samples Reveal Increased Concentrations of Lead and Copper




The Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority (WAPA) disclosed on Saturday that a recent testing exercise unveiled elevated concentrations of lead and copper in several water samples from St. Croix. Conducted on the preceding day, the tests indicated that 35 out of the 66 samples collected bore these worrying results.

WAPA suggests the problem could stem from stagnant water. Post-flushing and re-testing of the water lines significantly reduced or even eliminated the heavy metal traces in the vast majority of cases. Yet, areas including Diamond, Castle Burke Community, Colquohoun, and Mon Bijou continue to exhibit heightened levels of copper and lead even post-flush.

An in-depth investigation is underway to draw definitive conclusions, as stated by WAPA.

In a collaborative effort to address this, the Environmental Protection Agency, partnering with WAPA, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the University of the Virgin Islands, has pledged technical assistance for a thorough re-sampling endeavor on the St. Croix water testing project, according to the announcement by WAPA.

Simultaneously, WAPA is persisting with water line flushing across the distribution network, particularly focusing on the four aforementioned communities where elevated metal levels persist.

While WAPA assures that the majority of the community is not consuming this water, it has nonetheless forwarded several recommendations for minimizing exposure to these metals:

  1. Engage in a thorough flushing of water lines by running taps for several minutes, taking showers, doing laundry or washing dishes.
  2. Utilize cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula, avoiding the use of hot water tap which may have higher lead solubility.
  3. Identify and substitute plumbing fixtures containing lead. Even fixtures labeled as “lead-free” may have up to 0.25 percent weighted average of lead, as per current regulations. Look for lead-free certification marks for assurance.
  4. Consider employing a filter certified for lead removal post-water flushing, verifying manufacturer claims through independent certifying bodies.
  5. Regularly clean faucet aerators to diminish debris accumulation, which could harbor metal particles.
  6. Opt for alternative water sources like bottled water until lead concentration in the drinking water is alleviated. Engage in periodic re-testing of water for lead by contacting local laboratories such as Ocean Systems Laboratory at (340) 718-3246 located at 4049 La Grande Princesse, Christiansted, VI 00820.

WAPA highlights that efforts are ongoing to revamp the entire water distribution framework in St. Croix, aiming for a long-term resolution to the water discoloration and metal contamination issues.

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Vitema Offices on St. Thomas Closed Due to WAPA Potable Water Disruption



U.S. Virgin Islands – The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) Director is advising the public that the St. Thomas offices are closed effective immediately due to a WAPA potable water disruption.

According to WAPA’s statement, the problem is expected to be fixed later this evening and, as such, VITEMA’s St. Thomas office will reopen as usual tomorrow, Wednesday, May 15, 2024 for normal operations, 8am-5pm.

The St. Thomas 911 operations remain functioning as usual.


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Loud Boom at Randolph Harley Power Plant Leads to Safety Precautions



A startling boom at the Randolph Harley Power Plant in St. Thomas prompted an evacuation of the V.I. Water and Power Authority (WAPA) personnel on Thursday. Contrary to initial fears of an explosion, the noise was identified as a safety feature activation—a rupture disk—intended to prevent damage to critical systems, according to WAPA spokesperson Shanell Petersen.

This safety mechanism, which triggered the evacuation, responds automatically when it detects potential threats to the plant’s integrity. The activation caused significant concern, initially described as an explosion by a WAPA official. In response, the V.I. Fire and Emergency Services dispatched teams, and the Virgin Islands Police Department secured the plant’s perimeter.

Petersen explained the evacuation was a necessary precaution due to the intensity of the noise. She clarified that such measures ensure the safety of the staff, highlighting that the rupture disk’s role is a proactive safety response.

The event occurs amid ongoing challenges for WAPA in maintaining consistent power in the St. Thomas-St. John District. Following a district-wide outage on Wednesday, the region experienced similar power interruptions again today. Petersen noted that the rupture disk incident does not directly relate to the generation of power but is a separate safety measure.

The power issues have had widespread repercussions. The V.I. Department of Education had to cancel classes in the district for the second consecutive day. “Due to the ongoing power outage affecting the St. Thomas-St. John District, all schools within the district will remain closed today, Thursday, May 9, 2024,” announced the Department. “We apologize for any inconvenience and ask the public to follow official updates for further information on school operations.”

Additionally, the V.I. Superior Court announced closures due to a water service interruption, and the V.I. Economic Development Authority reported disruptions to its telephone services.

In related community impacts, the Lockhart K-8 Music Department has postponed its Spring Concert scheduled for today due to the unstable power supply, affecting not only educational institutions but also community events across the island.

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PSC Commissioner Calls for Hiring of Hearing Examiner Amid Concerns Over Water Safety in St. Croix



During a recent meeting with representatives from the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), Public Services Commission (PSC) member David Hughes expressed significant concerns about the current state of water testing in St. Croix, following last year’s alarming discovery of elevated levels of lead and copper. Hughes pressed for immediate action, questioning the delay in hiring a hearing examiner—a role outlined on the PSC’s website as crucial for overseeing utility compliance with regulations.

Hughes emphasized that the role of the hearing examiner is to work closely with utilities to ensure they meet the commission’s standards, particularly in regular testing to safeguard public health. “The PSC should be actively ensuring that WAPA maintains a consistent testing program that we can trust on behalf of consumers,” he stated.

The dialogue grew tense when Hughes criticized the commission’s efforts, responding to PSC Executive Director Sandra Setorie’s assurances that progress was being made with, “We as a Commission are not fulfilling our obligations.” He pointed to WAPA’s reactive measures—conducting 65 water tests in response to complaints about water discoloration—as insufficient and indicative of a need for a robust, ongoing testing program.

WAPA’s Director of Water Distribution for St. Croix, Don Gregoire, defended their practices, stating that the water is tested daily in their own laboratory, following EPA guidelines which now mandate biannual testing. However, Hughes countered that without full transparency and understanding of the testing procedures, the commission could not confidently endorse the program.

The urgency for better oversight was further highlighted by a lawsuit alleging serious deficiencies at the St. Croix laboratory, including outdated certifications and improper sample collection. These revelations support Hughes’s argument for enhanced oversight to ensure WAPA’s accountability and transparency.

Hughes also pointed out a broader issue of information deficit and lack of transparency from WAPA, underscoring the PSC’s duty to keep the public informed. “We’re not doing our job in regulatory oversight,” he lamented.

In a positive note, WAPA Chief Operating Officer for Water, Noel Hodge, announced a substantial FEMA grant aimed at overhauling St. Croix’s water infrastructure over the next two decades, with a detailed capital improvement plan underway and initial construction expected to start within three years.

Hughes’s call for the appointment of a hearing examiner underscores a critical need for PSC to enhance its regulatory role and ensure that such public health emergencies do not recur, reflecting a commitment to uphold safety and transparency in public utilities.

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