News Feature | July 25, 2016

Yellowstone Grapples With High Arsenic Levels In ‘Old Faithful' Water Supply

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson


Tests have indicated that the famous “Old Faithful” water system geyser in Jackson, WY, has “slightly elevated” levels of arsenic which could taint the drinking water supply.

Located in Yellowstone National Park, park officials have stated that visitors are in no danger, according to an Associated Press story appearing in the Great Falls Tribune.

More recent tests of the water show the arsenic levels have improved to safe levels and Yellowstone officials are working on making sure the problem does not continue.

“Based on those samples and tests, we know that right now we are well under the limit,” park spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said in the interview with AP. “We understand there is really no short-term danger for visitors, but we also recognize that there is the potential for long-term danger if the issue is not corrected, and we are working to correct it now.”

The U.S. EPA said in a notice that samples from the Old Faithful water system had found arsenic levels at 0.011 mpl. The maximum level of arsenic allowed is 0.010 mpl.

According to Jackson Hole News and Guide, EPA officials warned Yellowstone in early July that its Old Faithful public water system was in violation of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

“Please be aware that Yellowstone is required to submit to the EPA a plan and schedule for bringing the system into compliance with the drinking water regulations,” EPA Water Enforcement Program Director Arturo Palomares wrote to National Park Service Regional Director Sue Masica on July 6.

For the next 60 days Yellowstone will be in a “holding pattern,” after which they’ll have to provide the EPA with a plan for bringing the water system back into compliance, said Kimberly Pardue-Welch, the agency’s regional team leader for the drinking water enforcement program.

Pardue-Welch said that she’s not sure of “the particulars” of Yellowstone’s situation but that oftentimes arsenic is a natural byproduct of geology.

Warthin said solutions being considered by maintenance staff include changing the chemicals used to improve arsenic removal.

Jackson Hole News and Guide reported that maintenance staff is investigating changes in the chemicals used to improve arsenic removal.

Yellowstone could face tens of thousands of dollars in daily fines if it doesn’t satisfy the EPA’s demands.

“We don’t normally seek penalties as high as the $32,500 quoted,” Pardue-Welch said. “The penalties are not waived just because it’s another federal agency.”

Pardue-Welch was unaware where the arsenic-rich water was gathered.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Geyser June 13, 2011" A. Dombrowski © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: