ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WTSP) – The Flint water crisis opened many people’s eyes to how drinking water out of faucets could be a health hazard.
In the wake of the 2014 exposure of the Flint water crisis, communities across the country started paying closer attention to what is in their drinking water.
In 2016, the Natural Resources Defense Council published its own report titled “What’s in Your Water? Flint and Beyond”, which found that 18 million Americans were served by water systems with lead violations in 2015.
According to the NRDC report, Florida ranked second in the U.S. for people affected by Safe Drinking Water Act violations in 2015, but does this mean you need to be worried about what’s in your water?
“It’s not that the greater Tampa Bay area has a widespread problem with lead contamination in its drinking water, I don’t see any evidence of that,” said Jeff Cunningham, an Associate Professor in USF’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. “But this report suggests that there are a number of smaller communities of tens or dozens of people who may have issues with their drinking water.”
Watch extended interview: USF associate professor comments on Tampa Bay area's faucet water
"The major water providers like the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, as far as I know, and from what I can see in the NRDC report, don't have any issues,” added Cunningham.
Cunningham said problems arise with small water providers like in a mobile home park or an RV park.
"Often times those communities have their own water system," Cunningham said. "They’re not on city water, they’re not on county water, they have their own water system and what the NRDC report is saying is that there are a number of these small communities, mostly RV parks and mobile home parks around the Tampa Bay region, that have lead concentrations in their water higher than what the EPA says should be there.”
Cunningham said lead is a neurotoxin, which means there no level that considered safe.
"The only way to make sure that you no risk from lead contamination is to have no exposure,” Cunningham said. “It might not be affecting a million people, but it might be affecting 300 people.
"If you’re one of those 300 people, then this is a pretty big story.”
The vast majority of the violations reported in the NRDC study will go unenforced because state and federal agencies don't have the resources to police them.
“Somebody has to pay for it,” said Jim Gore, Dean Emeritus at the University of Tampa’s College of Natural & Health Sciences. “So, somewhere along the line, we have both state and federal governments who say that ‘well, the environment’s important, kinda’… And so, as a result, I think we can expect even reduced enforcement rather than increased enforcement of clean water and clean air regulations.”
But while we may not see much hard enforcement on some of these violations, the state does provide help to smaller water systems looking to improve their infrastructure.
“The relatively rare cases we are encountering exceedances for lead are typically related to older pipes and fixtures within homes and facilities, not the water system itself. The department is actively addressing these exceedances,” Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Dee Ann Miller told 10News. “We are committed to helping water systems quickly and effectively address any problems, and to ensure the public is informed and protected. The department, in conjunction with the Florida Rural Water Association, works to provide resources and guidance to small water systems that may need assistance. Through the State Revolving Fund, DEP also makes low-interest loans and grants available to water systems that require corrosion control treatment to address lead and other water quality issues.”
“They're both cumulative poisons,” added Gore. "I think that, over the long term, it's something to be concerned about."
Watch extended interview: University of Tampa professor comments on how the government monitors water quality
Jeffrey Cunningham / USF Assoc. Professor, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Jim Gore / University of Tampa College of Natural & Health Sciences, Dean Emeritus
NRDC Report: “What’s in Your Water? Flint and Beyond”: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/whats-your-water-flint-and-beyond