Continuing concerns with Belle Glade's water supply have our Contact 5 Investigators examining water treatment across Palm Beach County. The biggest problem in Belle Glade concerns aging pipes leaking and breaking under the water pressure provided by a new water treatment plant. Contact 5 dug through line breakage and boil water advisory records to see if other communities are or could be facing a similar problem.
Florida Department of Health records from the last three years show there have been at least 1,449 boil water advisories in Palm Beach county which works out to more than one every day. More than 200 of the advisories were the direct result of a line break.
"Every time there's a main break that means there's a potential for contamination?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma. "Correct, because what that will do is create a pressure drop," said Tim O'Connor from the Florida Department of Health.
Department of Health records show the most advisories, 487, we're associated with the Palm Beach County Water Utility Department . The same department that now oversees water treatment in Belle Glade.
Next on the list was Boca Raton with 211. Riviera Beach had 132 and West Palm Beach had 130 boil-water advisories between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2015.
"We don't see any real illness associated with these boil water notices. People seem to adhere to those very quickly," said O'Connor.
"Is it possible to have confirmed illnesses related to drinking water?" Werksma asked. "It's possible" O'Connor replied.
But it's a tricky thing to nail down. O'Connor says water-borne illness data is reliant on self reporting of symptoms. In 2015, no one reported a possible water-related illness in Palm Beach County but there's more to that than luck.
"We're constantly watching this. Our main issue is to track and make sure that they're producing potable clean water on a daily basis," said O'Connor.
The Department of Health requires every water treatment plant to hand in at least 100 water samples every month. O'Connor also points out boil water advisories are cautionary. Just because one is issued that does not mean there is a clear health threat.
Palm Beach County's water department now serves more than 500,000 customers. Boca Raton's water treatment facility, which has the second most boil advisories over the last three years, only serves 130,000 customers. The number of customers and miles of water lines needed to service them definitely contributes to the fact that PBCWUD issued the most boil advisories but we are still examining the issue.
We've reached out to the county to request more information specific to water main breaks and boil advisories.