Is water OK? That’s a bit murky
Erin Brockovich says no; Pines mayor says yes (for most of you)
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.”