The city of Apalachicola got a longtime weight lifted off its shoulders Monday with a letter from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that a decade-old consent order regarding drinking water has been lifted.
Elizabeth Mullins Orr, director of the FDEP’s Northwest District, wrote to Apalachicola Mayor Brenda Ash, that the corrective actions required by the consent order, put in place in March 2012 and most recently amended in July 2020, have been met.
Ashley Livingston, a spokeswoman for the Northwest District, said the roots of the consent order go back to 2011, when the city’s water system began to exceed the standard in their routine samples for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs).
All drinking water systems in Florida are required to add a disinfectant, typically chlorine, which when it comes in contact with naturally occurring organic material in the groundwater forms disinfection byproducts, including TTHMs, over time, she said.
The FDEP has the authority in the state to implement the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which sets legal limits for contaminants in drinking water, including such byproducts, and outlines testing schedules, methods and reporting requirements that water systems must follow.
Livingston said the federal standard for TTHMs is 0.080 mg/L, with compliance based on an average of samples taken at a particular monitoring location during the previous four calendar quarters, known as the Location Running Annual Average (LRAA).
For a system to be considered in-compliance, the LRAA must be under 0.080 mg/L, or commonly expressed as 80 ug/L, she said.
“While disinfection byproducts concentrations are variable based on factors such as temperature and water age, drinking water facilities can employ best management practices to keep the LRAA in compliance,” Livingston wrote in an email.
The 2012 consent order required the city to conduct a full evaluation of its water system and operations, performed by an independent engineer certified in the state.
Scientists have expressed concern that these TTHMs may pose a risk in the development of cancer, and some studies report an association between THMs and adverse birth outcomes.
“These strict standards are established to protect the public health and in the case of disinfection byproducts, are calculated so that a person would need to drink two liters of water per day in excess of the standard for 70 years before having an increased chance of adverse health effects,” said Livingston. “This allows drinking water facilities the necessary time to determine appropriate treatment needs, secure funding and complete any required corrective actions should a violation occur.”
City Manager Travis Wade said that recent monthly testing has shown no excess levels in TTHMs. “That is great news,” he said.
Livingston said the city has reported steady progress towards meeting the TTHM standard, which it has been meeting since September 2022. “The payment for costs and expenses incurred in the investigation have been paid,” Orr wrote, noting that FDEP had closed its enforcement file on Feb. 22.
Wade said the city will still have to adhere to the standard levels of TTHMs that apply to all water systems, and could be subject to a warning letter in the event they exceed those limits. “We’ll be monitoring every month for at least another year,” Wade said.
He said that originally there had been talk of implementing a carbon filtration system, at a cost of as high as $1.5 million. “Filters were going to cost a bunch of money every year,” Wade said. “We have resolved the issue without having to go to that.”
He said cleaning wells, refurbishing the water tanks and regularly flushing hydrants have all contributed to the success.
Wade said the terms of a second consent order should be fully resolved by April, with completion of repairs and maintenance to the water tower on Fifth Street.