SANDY, Utah (KUTV) — City officials met and decided to hold off on notifying news organizations about the water contamination problem that sickened residents, according to newly-released emails obtained by 2News through a public records request.
Several emails show Evelyn Everton, deputy mayor, drafted a press release by about noon on Wednesday, Feb. 13. Some affected residents had been notified by then, but the information wasn’t sent to journalists until two days later, Friday evening, after the problem had worsened.
A note sent Feb. 13 by Public Utilities Director Tom Ward, which appears to have been compiled by another staffer, said the decision was made to avoid a panic.
“Members of City administration, Communications, Fire and Legal met today with Public Utilities to review additional outreach,” the email read. “We are focusing efforts on communicating directly with citizens… We discussed today the possibility of a broad media announcement, and decided to cancel that effort in order to avoid triggering panic beyond the impacted area.”
A retired nurse and longtime Sandy resident, Jody Sybrowsky, emailed Ward — also on Feb. 13 — saying she “feel(s) that this issue has been hidden from the public.”
Sybrowsky said in an interview Wednesday that she got sick as a result of drinking tap water the weekend before her email to Ward.
“I guzzled that liter of water while I was working out and then guzzled another liter afterwards,” she said. “Immediately, I felt bloated and about half an hour later, had pretty severe gastric distress, and that lasted about three days.”
“He (Ward) called me right away after he got the email personally and apologized,” Sybrowsky said, “and told me that it was taken care of, that there was no further problem.”
However, the scale and scope of the problem would only widen. Lab results received Friday, Feb. 15, showed high levels of lead and copper in the drinking water as a result of the initial fluoride contamination. The number of homes at risk jumped from a few dozen at first to about 2,800.
It was then that the city sent the press release, more than 48 hours after drafting it.
The mayor’s office declined an interview request. Deputy mayor Everton said in a statement: “A press release wasn’t sent out because each of the residents in Zone 1 and Zone 2 were notified directly. Once the affected area was expanded to Zone 3 and it was more difficult to notify each resident directly the press release was sent out.”
Sybrowsky said she is in Zone 1 and was not notified. Someone left a flyer on her neighbor’s front door, which is how she learned of the problem.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Drinking Water is investigating whether the city properly notified residents as required.
Ward is on paid leave while the city investigates the response.
*Original article online at https://kutv.com/news/local/sandy-officials-kept-quiet-about-water-contamination-to-avoid-panic-email-reveals