Is wa­ter OK? That’s a bit murky

Erin Brock­ovich says no; Pines mayor says yes (for most of you)

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Su­san­nah Bryan Staff writer

PEM­BROKE PINES – This much is clear: The wa­ter woes fac­ing Pem­broke Pines won’t be fixed in a day.

And while res­i­dents are not be­ing told they need to boil their tap wa­ter, state of­fi­cials are re­quir­ing the city to warn preg­nant women, the el­derly and peo­ple with com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tems to con­sult their doc­tor be­fore drink­ing it.

State health depart­ment of­fi­cials rapped the city for send­ing out letters in Fe­bru­ary telling res­i­dents the wa­ter is safe. Mayor Frank Or­tis held an emer­gency meet­ing last week at City Hall to ad­dress the con­tro­versy.

On Thurs­day, hewas spout­ing good news, say­ing the wa­ter is safe to drink, but re­it­er­at­ing the warn­ing that preg­nant women and peo­ple with health is­sues should check with their doc­tors first.

“For some rea­son, some peo­ple are making a big hype out of this,” he said. “I don’t know why. My blood pres­sure’s been up for a week.”

Even Erin Brock­ovich has en­tered the fray, putting a spot­light on the wa­ter woes in Pem­broke Pines with a mis­sive to her more than 750,000 fol­low­ers on Face­book.

“Let’s talk about strate­gies to clean the wa­ter prop­erly first,” the en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist wrote, pledg­ing to have her “wa­ter team” con­tact City Hall.

The mayor in­sists all is well.

“Not one per­son has come to me and said they have a prob­lem,” he said. “You have peo­ple hyp­ing the is­sue say­ing Publix had run out of wa­ter. So I went to ev­ery Publix in Pem­broke Pines and they all had wa­ter.”

Res­i­dent Ben Me­nasche says he’s been drink­ing fil­tered wa­ter for a few years now any­way.

“I have a fil­ter that I change re­li­giously,” he said. “I don’t drink bot­tled wa­ter be­cause I don’t trust it ei­ther.”

Me­nasche, 80, said he’s less wor­ried about his tap wa­ter than he is about the state of pol­i­tics world­wide.

“I’m more wor­ried about atomic bombs and whether we’ll all be here in 10 years,” he said.

But some res­i­dents are still ask­ing them­selves whether it’s safe to drink the wa­ter.

Here’s why: The city’s drink­ing wa­ter has failed to meet fed­eral stan­dards for lev­els of tri­halomethanes, or THMs, which can cause can­cer and other health prob­lems af­ter long-term ex­po­sure.

THMs are cre­ated when dis­in­fec­tants used to kill bac­te­ria in the wa­ter sup­ply re­act with nat­u­ral or­ganic mat­ter.

Fed­eral law al­lows 80 parts of THMs for ev­ery 1 bil­lion parts of wa­ter — a mi­nus­cule amount.

The city’s drink­ing wa­ter has ex­ceeded that max­i­mum level at one of six test­ing sites.

In Novem­ber, Pem­broke Pines recorded 92.7 parts per bil­lion of THMs. In re­cent tests, lev­els were low­ered to an av­er­age of 83 parts per bil­lion.

Some res­i­dents have com­plained that their tap wa­ter has a yel­low­ish tinge.

City Hall is spend­ing $2.7 mil­lion on a new ion ex­change unit that will re­move the yel­low tinge and make the wa­ter clear again. That project is three or four months away from com­ple­tion.

But the color of the wa­ter is more of a cos­metic is­sue and has noth­ing to do with THM lev­els, city of­fi­cials say.

Com­mu­nity ac­tivist Jack McCluskey likens it to an un­founded frenzy.

“There are a few res­i­dents who just won’t be­lieve the wa­ter is OK,” he said. “Peo­ple are hys­ter­i­cal about this. Part of it is be­cause they get up­set about the color of wa­ter. That doesn’t mean there’s any­thing wrong with it. It’s go­ing to take a while to fix this.”

In early April, Pem­broke Pines sent a let­ter try­ing to re­as­sure res­i­dents while at the same time ex­plain­ing the prob­lem with the city’s THM lev­els.

“There is noth­ing you need to do,” the let­ter said. “You do not need to boil your wa­ter or take other cor­rec­tive ac­tions. If a sit­u­a­tion arises where there is an acute risk to health, you will beno­ti­fied within 24hours.”

The let­ter also warns res­i­dents that peo­ple who, over many years, drink wa­ter con­tain­ing THMs that ex­ceed fed­eral guide­lines can de­velop prob­lems with their liver, kid­neys and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem and may have an in­creased risk of can­cer.

The let­ter ad­vises res­i­dents who are con­cerned about the city’s wa­ter qual­ity to con­tact the EPA Safe Drink­ing Wa­ter Hot­line at 800-426-4791.

City Com­mis­sioner Jay Schwartz says he’s been get­ting in­quiries al­most daily over the past month.

“The re­sults were bad and the re­sults took us off the honor roll in not meet­ing stan­dards,” he said. “It does not mean that the wa­ter com­ing out of the faucet is bad. But at that mo­ment in time, it­was.”

Schwartz says he and his wife and kids are drink­ing tap­wa­ter.

“I’m drink­ing un­fil­tered wa­ter right out of the kitchen sink,” he said.

But, he added, peo­ple who are not sure should check with their doc­tor.

Res­i­dent Howard Vollovick thinks it’s all much ado about noth­ing.

“There’s no boil-wa­ter or­der,” he said. “You’re talk­ing three parts per bil­lion. I feel the wa­ter is safe to drink.”

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