Broward County's Drinking Water Report Doesn't Address Chemical Testing Question

Jul 4, 2018
Originally published on July 3, 2018 5:01 pm

This story has been updated for clarity, and with new information.

Broward County released its 2017 water quality report Monday.

The report, from the county's Water and Wastewater Services office, shows drinking water across Broward County had low, acceptable levels of all chemicals during 2017.

“Once again, our water met or exceeded all standards of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act,” Alan Garcia, the Director of Water and Wastewater Services, wrote in a statement Monday.

The Broward County Water system delivers drinking water to 59,000 customers in four main zones of the county that include parts of Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Hallandale Beach. The rest of the county’s water is serviced by each individual municipality, or by private companies.

However, quality reports being released for 2017's drinking water across the state reflect an outdated interpretation for water testing.

Water testing in Florida became an issue in May of this year after the state released new guidelines for testing for dangerous chemicals called trihalomethanes, or THMs. The Environmental Protection Agency warns these chemicals can cause liver, brain, and kidney cancers when levels in drinking water supply are too high. The chemicals have also been linked to higher rates of miscarriages in pregnant women.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s new guidelines state that water systems must treat maintenance routines called chlorine burns as normal operating procedures - and test for trihalomethanes whenever chlorine burns are happening. Levels of the trihalomethane chemicals are known to spike when officials are performing chlorine burns. 

Previously, water districts across Florida had been treating chlorine burns as "abnormal operating conditions," and no testing was required.

The DEP issued the clarifications in response to a letter that the regional office for the EPA sent in April, acknowledging inconsistencies in Florida’s testing for the dangerous THM chemicals. The DEP sent the new clarifications in a statewide memo, and also to several Health Departments - including Broward County's - in early May 2018.

Read More: Florida May Not Be Testing Its Drinking Water Correctly, Says Government Memo

The Environmental Protection Agency oversees Florida’s Departments of Health and Environmental Protection, which is responsible for managing drinking water quality testing in the state.

After receiving citizen complaints from Fort Lauderdale’s water system, the EPA issued a letter copied to Florida's DEP to correct the state on how testing guidelines for drinking water should be interpreted. It suggested the state had not been following best practices for testing drinking water during the disinfection periods.

The letter, dated April 20, from the EPA's region 4 office, confirmed that water systems do need to test for these chemicals during chlorine burns, which occur several times a year.

Garcia, from Broward County's Water and Wastewater Services department, was unavailable for comment on Monday. However, the director for the county's Water and Wastewater Operations, Mark Darmanin, told WLRN on Tuesday that Broward County did not test for trihalomethane chemicals during chlorine burns in 2017.

He noted that at the time, before the state received the EPA's corrective guidance, Broward County operated under Florida's statewide testing standards.

In Fort Lauderdale's water system, one of the treatment plants for drinking water, the Fiveash Plant, sends water to other municipalities, including Wilton Manors and Port Everglades.

The Fiveash plant’s integrity is in question after its analysis report for 2017 was done by the Reiss Engineering firm for the City of Fort Lauderdale. The report recommends extensive repairs that would total over $100 million.

The next chlorine burn in Broward County will take place in the City of Hollywood's water system, beginning on July 16.

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