A failure to conduct twice-a-year testing for lead and copper triggered a public notice for Seacoast Utility Authority customers, but the water has been safe all along, the director said.
The utility provides drinking water to about 90,000 people, or a little more than 50,000 households in northern Palm Beach County, including Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach, Lake Park and the south end of Juno Beach.
Seacoast Utility Authority Executive Director Rim Bishop said the switch from one kind of water softening treatment to another last year triggered the need for additional testing, which the authority didn’t do because it had been on a reduced testing schedule.
“We were in such a routine that we just overlooked picking up the first set of samples,” Bishop said.
The authority should have taken that first set of samples from 60 different locations throughout the system between January and June of this year, according to a notice dated August 15. Instead, they took the samples a month later. On a regular testing schedule, the check for lead and copper must occur twice a year six months apart.
So how can Seacoast customers know their water was safe? The authority tested for lead and copper in September 2014 and July 2015, and the results were well within the limits, Bishop said. Neither is acutely toxic, and any consequences of exposure would occur over years or even decades, not in the short term.
Seacoast was on a reduced monitoring schedule that meant it only had to take 30 samples once a year, Bishop said. A change in water treatment systems in May 2014 triggered a requirement to go back to regular testing. The utility switched from the standard lime softening system to a membrane treatment. In the new system, water drawn from wells is pumped under pressure through membranes that only allow more purified water to pass.
“It produces much higher quality water,” Bishop said and eliminates the need to dispose of a byproduct from the lime treatment.
The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County is responsible for making sure federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards are met by utilities in Palm Beach County. Spokesman Tim O’Connor verified Seacoast’s test for lead and copper this summer didn’t turn up any elevated levels. The authority is routinely testing for bacteria and other substances, he said.
“We have to make sure that the public has safe drinking water,” O’Connor said. “For the most part, the utilities companies are pretty good, pretty diligent.”
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