SPECIAL REPORT: Testing the Waters

News

Clean drinking water is often taken for granted. During Hurricane Michael when many area water systems were down, residents were reminded of the importance of H20. Now that the storm has passed and water systems are back up and running…how is the quality of the water coming from your tap? 

News 13 went to 4 counties across the Panhandle and tested 5 different cities. The scores of the cities tested are as follows: 

WALTON COUNTY, DeFuniak Springs: 95– Excellent

BAY COUNTY, Lynn Haven: 61– Poor

BAY COUNTY, Panama City Beach (Bay County System): 87– Good

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Apalachicola: 58– Poor

JACKSON COUNTY, Marianna: 86– Good

“The scale takes into account the presence of contaminants, the extent of those contaminants and then thirdly, the kind of certainty in the scientific community around the impact of that contaminant,” said Simple Water CEO, John Pujol.

John Pujol is the CEO of Simple Water– an organization dedicated to testing and improving the quality of drinking water. They’ve developed a scale that helps flag anything that could be considered harmful in water and based on their findings, they give the water a ‘Tap Score’. 

“From 0-30 is not potable, in our opinion. Anything from 30-50, use extreme caution and consideration and try to get on top of fixing something. From 50 to mid-’70s, I’d say you’ve got maybe some minor issues but they can be resolved and should be resolved but it’s not a huge concern. 75 to 90 or 100, I’d say everything is going well. There might be some aesthetic issues you want to concern yourself with like water hardness, a funny tasting compound, but nothing that is really poking the sleeping dragon, so to speak. There’s nothing there that’s going to elicit any fear as far as any public health research is concerned.”

They flag harmful materials based on research done by the EPA. While something harmful may show up on your report, it could be a low concentration or not as harmful as we believe because of the little information surrounding the element. “We have very little information and sometimes, it’s practically no better than a guess because there hasn’t been a lot of research on a particular compound,” said Pujol. 

In areas like Apalachicola, residents said they choose not to drink straight from the tap and have moved to use other methods. “The water bottled machines or whatever you want to call them, one year I bought everyone one for Christmas,” said  Apalachicola Resident, Tommy Ward. 

“We like to assume that the public water utilities are doing a perfect job and that once the water gets treated there and sent to the pipes, everything is fine. We know quite well, that’s not the case,” said Pujol. 

Pujol goes on to say that even if a city is doing treatment properly, the water can sit in the pipes for days on the way to your home and can react with other organic material in the pipes that alters the quality of the water. 

“This is a combination of either using to too much chlorine or underestimating the amount of contact time that the chlorine water system is putting in there and has with the organic matter in the pipes in the distribution system,” Pujol said. 

Pujol said there are many factors that go into water testing but there are definite discrepancies when it comes to water distribution. Some areas receive lesser quality water due to factors that seem out of the homeowner’s control. 

“Lower income communities, areas in older parts of the country, there are many unfair ways with respect to how American water quality is given out to families around the country, some states just have worse water qualities than others. Some of those pipes can be really old. They can have cracks, they can have leaks, they can have organic material in them, the homes itself which aren’t even on the premise of a water system can have been built 100 years ago and what is in those pipes in the home, nobody might know,” said Pujol. 

Most municipal water systems treat the water before it reaches the home by using one of two chemicals. “Chlorine and chloramine are the two most common disinfectants used in U.S. drinking water and they do an outstanding job of making sure that the concentration and colony count of bacteria, mainly coliform bacteria and E-coli bacteria are kept really low,” said Pujol.

However, sometimes too much of the disinfectant can lead to disinfectant by-products known as Trihalomethanes. 

“When that chloramine reacts with organic material in the water, it forms these disinfectant byproducts or trihalomethanes and a number of these have been associated through epidemiological research with adverse health effects like cancer or liver problems. They’re not very well understood but they’re at this point considered dangerous enough for the U.S. EPA to have a total concentration limit on all of these at 80 parts per billion,” said Pujol. 

Those Trihalomethanes were found in multiple reports including the city of Lynn Haven. 

“There’s about 3 of the same chlorine disinfectant by-products and a slightly higher strontium measurement,” said Pujol. 

Strontium is one of the many elements that emit radioactive particles. While it sounds concerning, officials say it’s not too much to worry about. 

“Is this something terribly concerning? Absolutely not. Is this something to worry about? You know if you want to be very critical about your water quality then yes, it’s something that doesn’t help you in the water,” he said. 

He goes on to compare the exposure to that of minor radiation. “Do you feel concerned about something radioactive in your water, well sure.. that’d be great if it weren’t there but we’re talking at really really low concentrations. You go through an airport scanner when you fly on an airplane, you get an x-ray done… this is that level of exposure, if not lower. In fact, it is much lower,” he said.

Both Lynn Haven and Apalachicola have a few red flags on their reports which overall resorted in their poor scores. Many worry that these poor scores will impact their health poorly, but water testing officials say short-term exposure should not cause any issues. 

“1 in 100,000 to 1 in a million chance of this causing an adverse health effect in you. So if you’re exceeding one of those, it doesn’t mean that every single person is getting sick tomorrow. It means that with chronic long term exposure to this kind of concentration, yes there’s an increased likelihood of you having an adverse health effect,” said Pujol. 

Ultimately, if the score for your water at home is less than ideal, you can always improve it on your own. “Water treatment in the home should be more popular and at lease considered in situations like this where a water system is perhaps not able to control the trihalomethane level to the desired level,” said Pujol. 

“In my opinion, we should all have impeccable, tasty, non-costly, no health risks water quality, and it’s achievable. It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not easy when the water systems have to deal with all the struggles and challenges that they have.”

To test your own water using Simple Water Tap Score, click here. 

If you’d like to see the full reports for the water we tested, click the desired city below.

Apalachicola

Lynn Haven

Marianna

Panama City Beach

DeFuniak Springs

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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