Breaking News Update: Drinking Water – June 2, 2021

William Kelly & Wendy Rutledge  |  Our Town  |  Public Safety  |  June 2, 2021

Water advisory could be lifted by weekend, city officials say

West Palm Beach officials say they’re hopeful the city’s water supply will be declared safe to drink by this weekend but won’t know until receiving the latest water test results from the state.

The water was tested on Tuesday and was to be tested again on Wednesday for a toxin related to blue-green algae, according to Poonam Kalkat, the city’s public utilities director.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office made available its airplane to fly water samples to Tallahassee for testing by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

If the test results show a decrease in the blue-green algae toxin, the city said Tuesday it will work with the state Department of Health to begin lifting its May 28 advisory, which warned that its water is not safe for vulnerable populations to drink.

West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James has said he hoped the advisory could be lifted by the end of this week.

The city supplies water to 120,000 residents, including those in Palm Beach and South Palm Beach.

Cylindrospermopsin, a toxin produced by cyanobacteria, was discovered at unsafe levels in the drinking water from the city’s water treatment plant on May 19. A health alert for vulnerable populations has been in place since late Friday while the city continues to clear the system of toxins caused by the cyanobacteria.

Infants, children younger than 6, pregnant women and nursing mothers, people with pre-existing liver conditions, people receiving dialysis, the elderly and other sensitive populations should use other sources of water, city officials advise. Pets are also vulnerable.

As part of its effort to remove the toxin, the city began using free chlorine disinfection. Anyone sensitive to the taste or odor of chlorine should keep an open container of drinking water in their refrigerator for a few hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate.­

The city said in the May 28 advisory that it activated its emergency wells to introduce ground water into the surface water supply, added powdered and switched to a stronger disinfectant which the U.S. the Environmental Protection Agency has said reduces levels of the toxin.

Town Manager Kirk Blouin said he hoped to learn by late Thursday the test results from the water samples taken this week.

“In my mind, the best-case scenario would be they would issue an advisory update maybe late Thursday or Friday,” he said. “If not, they will have to continue to treat the water and flush the lines.”

West Palm Beach’s water supply comes mainly from Grassy Waters Preserve, making the city one of only 12 Florida municipalities that rely on surface water instead of groundwater from wells or the aquifer.

Cylindrospermopsin is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the city. It is a naturally occurring alkaloid produced by cyanobacteria. There is no federal or state program in place that requires monitoring for cyanotoxins at U.S. drinking water treatment plants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the city had handed out 137 pallets, containing nearly 200,000 bottles of drinking water, at three distribution points including Gaines Park, 1501 N. Australian Ave., where water was distributed again on Wednesday morning.

The city has not set up a water distribution site in the town. Blouin said, however, that the town contacted the Palm Beach Publix supermarket over the weekend to confirm that additional bottled water would be shipped to the store.

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