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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Letter to Clearwater residents has confusing, but benign water warning



About 22,000 residents in Clearwater recently found a jargony letter in their mailboxes from the city about a chemical found in the drinking water.

But don't panic.

Cities are required by federal law to test once a year and ensure there are no traces of a variety of chemicals in the drinking water.

If any amount of a list of banned chemicals is found during the test, cities must test again every quarter that year to make sure there's no reoccurring problem.

A very small trace of cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene (as I said, jargony) was found during the annual test in January but city officials did not follow up with a retest the next quarter.

Once the oversight was discovered, the city was required by federal law to let residents know the follow-up test wasn't done.

“This is not a water quality issue, it's a reporting issue,” said Public Utilities Director David Porter.

About 0.6 parts per billion of the chemical was found in the January test, well below the 70.0 parts per billion maximum limit that's considered safe.

Because of the minuscule amount, Dr. Jeffrey Cunningham, assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at University of South Florida, said residents shouldn't worry.

“I don't think there's any reason to be concerned about health,” Cunningham said. “It doesn't look like a Flint, Mich., case, but the city should be monitoring quarterly to make sure they don't see the chemical again.”

Cunningham said the chemical is a breakdown product of solvents used in things like dry cleaning that can be detected if those agents are spilled or released into the groundwater.

But based on the concentration, he said, “I don't think they have a problem.”

Porter said about the same amount of the chemical did show up in the most recent quarterly test, but the concentration was so low, the lab could not confirm the 0.7 parts per billion result was exact.

Based on certain thresholds used to report concentrations, the actual levels “could be lower but not higher” than what came back.

Quarterly testing will continue and residents, again, shouldn't fret, Porter said.

“We strive to produce the highest quality water we can.”

[Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2016 12:24pm]


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