For Immediate Release
Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337
Boca Raton Tap Water Violations Trigger Health Probe
Chronic Low Pressure Problems Risk Microbial Contamination and Boil Orders
WASHINGTON - The Palm Beach County Department of Health is now
looking into low pressure problems that compromise the drinking water supplies
of Boca Raton, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The South Florida city had fired two
of its key water Quality Control staff members this past December 17th for
raising similar concerns.
To protect drinking water in its distribution system from backflows of contaminated
water the City of Boca Raton must maintain pressure in its water pipes of at
least 20 pounds per square inch (psi). Yet city records show that pressure
fluctuates, falling to as low as 10 psi for long periods - and at some
points falling close to zero psi. State regulations require that public advisories
to boil tap water before using be issued if system pressure falls below 20
psi due to risk of microbial contamination of water.
In a November 5, 2008 memo from Christine Ferrigan who had served as Utility
Coordinator for Boca Raton for 23 years until she and Angela Romero, an inspector,
were terminated days later:
"Many residents have complained about low water pressure and a foul
smell coming from their faucets, but the City of Boca Raton has never addressed
this serious problem. Jokes have been made in staff meetings about the problem
of low water pressure..."
In a February 20, 2009 letter, the Palm Beach County health Department formally
notified the city that it was looking into a number of low pressure reports
covering a ten-month period from April 2007 to February 2008. That investigation
is still ongoing but does not include operational concerns at the city water
agency, such as -
- Failure to test backflow prevention devices (to keep contaminated
water out of the distribution system), inadequate backflow devices in many
areas using reclaimed water and deceptive reports files with the state;
- A spotty inspection system that is described by the Utility Services
Director as little more than a "drive-by"; and
- Boca Raton Utility Services has not replaced the two employees it
terminated last year who had responsibilities covering Pretreatment, Reclaim
Water, Backflow and Cross Connections.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection investigated many of these
matters but concluded that it did not have jurisdiction but it is unclear whether
it ever formally referred the matter to the county Health Department.
"Boca Raton utilities staff has been raising these concerns from more
than two years and it appears that the only result has been their removal," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Candor about water contamination
is extremely dangerous for Florida public servants."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.