David Denig-Chakroff resigned from Madison Water Utility in September 2007 after concerns related to elevated levels of manganese and a failure to disinfect virus-infected water dogged his 11-year tenure there.
Former MBWC Chairman Jon Standridge tells SFR Denig-Chakroff didn’t want to address public concerns that arose when Madison residents complained about discolorations in their water.
“He was of the position that all we had to do is meet the [Environmental Protection Agency] standards, and EPA hadn’t dealt with manganese yet—their rule-making process takes several years…He said, ‘Well, as long as we’re making the EPA standards, we’re going to tell people the water’s safe…his style would be to keep things quiet whenever possible,” Standridge says.
Denig-Chakroff says he initiated a project to filter more of the manganese out of the water, which was put in place approximately two years after the concerns first arose. He says he never tried to hide the reality of the situation from the public.
“Everything that went on was open,” he says. “It’s a city utility; everything is public information.”
However, a 2007 Drinking Water Quality Annual Report contains a statement “from the General Manager,” acknowledging that in 2006 “…the Utility was criticized for failing to communicate effectively on a number of issues important to the residents of Madison…”
Denig-Chakroff’s 2007 employment contract stipulated he improve his work in the areas of leadership and communications, but he resigned voluntarily before the end of the year. He tells SFR that he left to find a better career opportunity.
Former MBWC member George Meyer requested the city evaluate Denig-Chakroff shortly before he resigned, but that never happened because Denig-Chakroff left.
“There was a breakdown in the procedures for communicating [with the public],” Meyer says.
During Denig-Chakroff’s time at the utility, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services received many reports of health problems linked to manganese toxicity, epidemiologist John Hausbeck says. However, WDHS investigated the cases, and couldn’t link any of them to drinking water, he tells SFR.
Supplements containing manganese may have caused the problem.
Another concern arose when two of Madison’s wells were found to have insufficient levels of chlorine. Madison’s groundwater was infected with a virus at the time.
“There were some incidents where the chlorine equipment failed, and there were periods when there wasn’t the required amount of chlorine going into the system,” Denig-Chakroff says.
But Denig-Chakroff says the situation was “probably not” dangerous.
“The chlorine would kill any virus at pretty much any levels…I’m not sure that the wells where the viruses were located were the same ones where the chlorine equipment failed. The chlorine equipment was checked on a daily basis so, if there was a failure in chlorine, it probably occurred over a short time.”
A 2006 article in the Wisconsin State Journal quotes Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Water Quality Engineer Tom Stunkard criticizing the Madison Water Utility for failing to advise the public to boil their water when fecal bacteria was found in water samples.
“It would have made my job a lot easier if, instead of arguing about boundaries for the boil order, they would have just issued it,” Stunkard told the WSJ.
Stunkard would not comment to SFR on any issue with the Madison Water Utility from that time except the elevated manganese, which he said only exceeded the aesthetic, rather than the health-safety, limit.
The EPA’s suggested level to “enhance consumer acceptance of water resources” is 0.05 milligrams per liter; Madison’s wells reached 0.186. But the maximum safe concentration of manganese, below which its neurotoxic effects are not expected to be a problem, is 0.3, according to the EPA.
Eldorado Area Water & Sanitation District Board President James Jenkins tells SFR the utility became aware of the problems with the Madison Water Utility under Denig-Chakroff’s direction when EAWSD checked Denig-Chakroff’s references. He says Denig-Chakroff is responsible for alerting the public on Eldorado’s system about potential problems, just as he was in Madison.