Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Columnist Dan Dewitt: It would be better to clean up our act

Just when I'd started to get used to the idea of poisonous tap water, I found out it's really poisonous.

We've known for a while that we had some arsenic in our well water, 22 parts per billion to be exact.

That's higher than the federal Environmental Protection Agency's maximum safe level of 10 parts per billion, but lower than the old federal limit, and lower even than the concentration found in some brands of that favorite of toddlers, apple juice.

We didn't drink our water, of course, or cook with it.

And I sometimes thought, looking ahead to when we try to sell our house, that it sure would be nice if we were dealing with a less alarming and notorious toxin, one that didn't show up in so many history books and crime novels.

But I didn't really worry about it.

Now, well, I don't know.

Last week, we got a letter from the state Department of Health, which has started retesting contaminated wells in Hernando County. Our new level, the letter said, is 78 parts per billion.

That's still not high enough to make us keel over or to turn our feet black, a symptom of acute arsenic poisoning. But it is close to the levels linked to an increase risk of cancer.

All this is not to moan about my troubles. It's a roundabout way to make a point, that pollution is expensive.

Yes, arsenic can occur naturally. But, until a few decades ago, it was the go-to ingredient for killing agricultural pests: fungus, insects, nematodes and weeds. It was sprayed in groves and on row crops. Vats for dipping tick-infested cattle (there were 36 of them in Hernando) held as many as 2,000 gallons of concentrated arsenic solution. And it just so happens that the best land for raising oranges, cantaloupes and cattle, the Spring Lake area, the area most likely to be doused with arsenic, is precisely where it's showing up now.

So, if I had to guess, I'd say that's the cause — the way things were done in Florida before environmental awareness, before Silent Spring, before the Clean Water Act, before all that hateful regulation.

Restrictions on industry kill jobs, we've heard, and we'd all be better off if a lot of them just went away.

Considering the 26 percent reduction in funding for the Department of Environmental Protection since 2008 and the way the department's leadership recently bulldozed a respected, longtime staffer's objections to a boondoggle of a wetlands mitigation project, it looks as though state lawmakers and/or Gov. Rick Scott are putting their anti-regulatory feelings into practice.

The costs, potentially, are huge: cleanups, loss of property value, a lack of money from tourists who might decide on another destination after hearing about, for example, vast algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The costs of dealing with arsenic in Hernando are tiny in comparison. But enough that we can all imagine the good this money might do if spent another way.

There are now 363 contaminated residential wells in Hernando. The state will pay $194,236 this year to provide filters or bottled water to these homes.

That cost might go up if the retesting finds that more wells, like ours, are contaminated enough to justify whole-house filters, which cost thousands of dollars each.

And the only way to make this expense go away permanently is to run water lines to every house with a contaminated well. This was considered a few years ago, and the price tag really was significant — $15 million.

So wouldn't it be easier, and cheaper, and healthier, to make sure our state isn't polluted in the first place?

• • •

We've heard your complaints. We know you'd like something to fill the gap in coverage created when we do not publish the Hernando Times on Mondays and Tuesdays.

One partial solution: an Internet-only column, Quick Hits, that I recently started writing and posting on the Hernando page of by noon Mondays. It might include bits of news, short opinion pieces, or maybe just notes on worthwhile things I saw or did over the weekend.

If you have suggestions for items to include, or comments or gripes, contact me by telephone at (352) 754-6116 or by email at And, of course, you can join the dozens of folks now following me on Twitter at @ddewitttimes.

Columnist Dan Dewitt: It would be better to clean up our act 08/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 2:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida education news: Athletic trainers, signing bonuses, student vaccinations and more


    SAFETY FIRST: Pasco County school district leaders decide to retain high school athletic trainers, which had been slated for elimination, amid pleas from …

  2. Rays morning after: Why Alex Cobb was out of the game and Alex Colome was in


    Alex Cobb obviously did a really good job pitching the first eight innings for the Rays on Tuesday.

    So why didn't manager Kevin Cash let him pitch the ninth?

    Because he had Alex Colome available to do so.

    Cobb had thrown only 98 pitches, so workload and fatigue were not factors.

  3. Police commander among 6 charged in deadly 1989 UK soccer deaths


    LONDON — British prosecutors charged six people Wednesday in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster where 96 soccer fans were crushed to death.

    Police, stewards and supporters tend and care for wounded supporters on the pitch at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, England, on April 15, 1989. British prosecutors on Wednesday June 28, 2017, are set to announce whether they plan to lay charges in the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough stadium crush _ one of Britain's worst-ever sporting disasters. [Associated Press]
  4. Supreme Court term ended much different than it began


    BC-US—Supreme Court, 1st Ld-Writethru,899

    AP Photo WX109

    People visit the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 26, 2017, as justices issued their final rulings for the term, in Washington.  The Supreme Court began its term nine months ago with Merrick Garland nominated to the bench, Hillary Clinton favored to be the next president, and the court poised to be controlled by Democratic appointees for the first time in 50 years.  Things looked very different when the justices wrapped up their work this week. [Associated Press]
  5. SPC's Bill Law leaves with pride for the faculty, concern for students — and a story about hotdogs


    ST. PETERSBURG — The local community college had already made a name for itself when William Law Jr. first arrived on campus in the early 1980s as a vice president. Still, the school, then named St. Petersburg Junior College, was just a shadow of the sprawling state college it would later become.

    Bill Law, outgoing St. Petersburg College president, said he is proud of the college cultivating stronger relationships with the community.