- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality is proposing a record environmental fine of nearly $3.2 million against a company hired to treat water in a town in far southeastern Oklahoma.

A department investigation determined Severn Trent Services failed to meet minimum chlorine standards, putting potentially thousands of area residents of Hugo at risk of drinking unsafe water for 317 days over two years, The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1gGVCCz ) reported.

The fine is three times larger than any other levied by the agency’s Water Quality Division, director Shellie Chard-McClary said. The department generally can work with violators to fix problems rather than issue fines, but officials say the company violated federal Safe Drinking Water Act laws.

“When we are addressing acute human-health violations, it is very important we address them through an order,” Chard-McClary said. “We do take a strong action when violations could impact human health.”

A Severn Trent spokeswoman said it is company policy not to speculate on the outcome of regulatory procedures or actions. It can request an appeals hearing or settlement.

Hugo outsourced its drinking water and wastewater operations to Severn Trent in 2007. The city provides water to an estimated 5,500 residents, as well as about 2,500 people in Grant and to Choctaw Rural Water District No. 1.

The state department discovered problems with the city’s water in December 2014, when monthly tests showed the water was too cloudy. Murky water can be safe to drink, but cloudiness interferes with chlorine disinfection tests.

The company’s water tests also showed the water was cloudy again in January, prompting a mandatory comprehensive evaluation. Department staff conducted a weeklong inspection at the end of February and discovered dozens of violations, including malfunctioning equipment.

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com

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