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Florida Department of Health says West Palm Beach late in notifying public of tainted water

'City was required to inform the state immediately,' state officials say
Posted at 5:20 PM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 19:11:17-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health tells WPTV Contact 5 that West Palm Beach Utilities should have told health officials of tainted drinking water shortly after its first test showed high levels of toxins from blue-green algae.

Contact 5 first asked the director of the DOH in Palm Beach County when she knew the city's drinking water was tainted.

"I'm not going to comment on the city information," Dr. Alina Alonso said Tuesday after leaving a Palm Beach County Commission meeting. "I’m here for the COVID update. I'm sorry."

Dr. Alina Alonso sidesteps questions regarding West Palm Beach's recent water advisory

But the Florida Department of Health headquarters in Tallahassee made it clear that Alonso, nor anyone else in the department, was told soon enough.

"The city was required to inform the state immediately upon knowledge that the drinking water system was compromised," a DOH spokesperson wrote.

When announcing Friday that drinking water was safe for everyone, West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James said DOH protocol required follow-up tests before warning the public, and that the city utilities followed the rules.

"These are the professionals. They were doing the job as they knew their job to be," James said at a Friday news conference.

Mayor Keith James, news conference on water advisory on June 3
West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James speaks at a news conference on June 3, 2021, concerning the city's recent water advisory.

"The City of West Palm Beach has not received a notice of investigation. Should the city receive a notice of investigation, we will cooperate accordingly," the city's communication director wrote to Contact 5.

The city and state appear to be looking at different sections of state rules.

The Department of Health said it should be warned, "(In) situations that may pose an acute risk to human health as soon as possible, no later than 24 hours after the system learns of a situation."

The department also tells Contact 5 that the state is "investigating the situation to evaluate possible future enforcement actions."

Below is a statement from Florida Department of Health regarding the matter:

I want to be clear: The City and Utility did not inform the State upon receiving initial sampling results that the water system was compromised, even though they had sampling results for several days. The City was required to inform the state immediately upon knowledge that the drinking water system was compromised, per the Florida Administrative Code I have referenced below.
Chapter 62-560.410 of the Florida Administrative Code requires public water purveyors to notify the regulatory agency for situations that may pose an acute risk to human health as soon as possible, no later than 24 hours after the system learns of a situation.
On May 28, 2021, the City of West Palm Beach notified the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County (DOH) that elevated levels of cyanobacteria toxins (blue-green algae) were detected in the City of West Palm Beach Water Treatment Plant, which is sourced by Clear Lake.
Upon notification, DOH responded and issued a Public Health Advisory within the same day. DOH coordinated with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to support the analysis of collected samples in the area and provided technical assistance for water treatment. As a result of the state’s swift action to protect public health, on June 4, the department distributed this release [palmbeach.floridahealth.gov] providing updates and guidance to the community. I recommend reading that in its entirety.
The department is assessing and investigating the situation to evaluate possible future enforcement actions.
Thank you.
Weesam Khoury
Communications Director
Florida Dept. of Health

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