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Florida Republicans didn’t sign letter on dirty water

A delegation effort to press the EPA is missing key support.
Tim and Linda Lawson stand by the well outside their Ocala home. The Lawsons, who have lived there for 33 years, were told in November that the well is contaminated with elevated levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which early tests have suggested can be carcinogens. (SAMANTHA J. GROSS | Times/Herald)
Published Jan. 22

U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz and 12 other members of Florida’s delegation wrote to two top congressmen last week, requesting their committee to press the Environmental Protection Agency on what it is going to do to regulate chemical contamination in drinking water.

The letter comes in response to a Times/Herald story published in early January, revealing that it took four months for state health officials to notify residents in the Ocala community about potentially elevated levels of the chemicals in their well water.

It is backed by a dozen other members from Florida’s congressional delegation. Missing from the list of signatures are two notable names: Republican U.S. Reps. Daniel Webster and Ted Yoho who represent Marion County, where the recent contamination issue made news.

A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz said her office sought support for the letter from the entire 27-member delegation. None of the 14 Republicans signed on. All 13 Democrats did, including Wasserman Schultz.

Just three weeks ago, the congresswoman called out to the EPA and U.S. Attorney General’s office requesting they establish a proper system for regulating, monitoring and notifying people of water contamination in their area.

The Weston Democrat expressed her concern through a two-page letter to Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso and Ranking Member Tom Carper, detailing the toxicity of chemicals in flame retardants — and found in the water supply of some unknowing Floridians.

“We respectfully request that you inquire about EPA’s efforts to establish a drinking water standard for PFOS and PFOA and ask how EPA can improve its oversight and support of state drinking water programs,” she wrote. “Because these are not yet regulated contaminants, a proper system for monitoring, regulating, and sending notifications for contamination events is not yet in place.”

Webster said he didn’t sign because he believes the responsibility falls to Florida’s departments of environmental protection and health. He made clear that the regulation of PFOS and PFOA, as well as the investigation into contamination, is their responsibility alone.

”State and local government leaders are best equipped and empowered to address this, and they have already begun to do so,” he said in a statement. “We are and will continue to monitor their efforts to ensure comprehensive investigation and remediation occurs.”

Brian Kaveney, a spokesman for Yoho’s office, said they were given “a very, very short window” to join onto the letter, but that the congressman’s district office has been separately working on the issue.

“We have had several discussions with local and state officials about the issue of water quality in and around the Ocala fire college,” said Yoho’s deputy chief of staff, Kat Cammack. “We have also consulted with the Florida DEP on potential solutions moving forward. We will continue to monitor and follow up with officials on this situation as well as the national effort to establish a standard on PFOS and PFOA acceptable levels.”

Times/Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

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