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Utility engineer calls West Palm Beach water warning letter 'disturbing'

Florida Dept. of Health claims city failed to report toxins in 55 samples
West Palm Beach Water Plant
Posted at 3:42 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 18:06:56-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Contact 5 continues to dig into the Florida Department of Health's warning letter that was sent Tuesday to West Palm Beach about its drinking water.

We shared the letter with longtime water utility engineer Fred Bloetscher to get his thoughts.

The letter warns the city that it possibly violated the law for allegedly failing to warn people and the state about toxins reportedly detected in its drinking water dating back to 2016.

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"It's disturbing," Bloetscher said. "It demonstrates that the incident a couple weeks ago is not the first time this has happened and that there's a pattern over the last five years where the city has struggled with the raw water quality in the lake."

Fred Bloetscher, water utility engineer
Fred Bloetscher shares his thoughts on the recent water problems in West Palm Beach.

The warning letter claims the city failed to report toxins detected in 55 samples dating back five years. Forty-seven of those samples were subject to notification requirements, according to the letter.

Most recently, it took nine days for the city to notify the state of a toxin in the drinking water following the first sample.

City officials said they were following state health department rules, which mandate water suppliers report the contaminant within seven days of receiving the confirmation sample.

It's also still unclear how and when the state learned about the August 2016 date or where it came from.

West Palm Beach water warning letter
The warning letter claims the city failed to report toxins detected in 55 samples dating back five years.

When Contact 5 asked a city spokesperson about it, she said, "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the matter until after we've had the meeting with the Department of Health as they've requested."

A city spokesperson told contact 5 Wednesday, "The city disputes any rule or law violations cited in the Florida Department of Health warning letter."

Contact 5 also sent questions to the Florida Department of Health, and we're waiting to hear back.

In the meantime, Bloetscher said he believes the city will have to change how it extracts water and spend money to solve the problem.

That is something he said he proposed years ago.

"I think with a surface water system in South Florida, the big challenge is taking surface water straight off the surface water always gives you the potential that there will be water quality challenges to deal with," Bloetscher said. "I think the evidence suggests they'll continue to face this until they make a change."

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