Tests find gas and pesticides from the former county compound seeped into the key drinking water source.
By ASJYLYN LODER
Published September 24, 2006
BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County's public works compound polluted the
Floridan aquifer with gasoline and pesticides, including carcinogens,
according to the county's most recent report on the long-running
Tests found the carcinogen benzene at 430 times the
limit considered safe for drinking water. The aquifer provides drinking
water for most of north and central Florida. The water - and chemicals
- appear to be moving north toward two public water supply wells
one-half mile away, according to preliminary tests.
Brooksville's drinking water is safe, said Will Smith, superintendent of utilities for the city.
have no indications that it's not. It meets all the current standards,"
Smith said. Out of concern for other polluted sites nearby, he tests
the Lamar Avenue wells in South Brooksville monthly for petroleum, he
Tampa Bay Water's nearest well, more than 15 miles south in
Pasco County, is unlikely to be affected, said Christine Owen, water
quality assurance officer.
The utility draws water from the
Floridan for 2.4-million residents in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas
counties and St. Petersburg, Tampa and New Port Richey.
Hernando County officials insisted for years that an underground clay layer protected the aquifer.
They were wrong.
filtered downward while the county's 15-year-long cleanup repeatedly
stalled. Eventually, those chemicals fouled the aquifer, according to
the latest report, released in July.
Last week, the County
Commission approved funding for 150-foot deep wells to track how far
the chemicals spread in the water supply.
"We know it's not
good," said county engineer Gregg Sutton, who directs the county's
cleanup. "So the next question is: to what extent? And what do we do
County Administrator Gary Kuhl said, "You hope it hasn't spread very far."
said he's been pushing the state Department of Environmental
Protection, which oversees the cleanup, to approve the new monitoring
wells even before the agency completed its review of the July report.
do know that some pollutants have made it into the Floridan and we will
approve additional work to evaluate the impact," Pamala Vazquez, DEP
spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail. There are no private drinking water
wells in the area, Vazquez said.
The county's public works
department used the compound on W Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard from 1955
to 2003 for mosquito control, fleet maintenance, refueling, and road
painting and repair. Chemicals used there included gasoline, diesel,
pesticides, paint and paint thinner. Many of those chemicals spilled
into the dirt and groundwater.
The county began investigating the
pollution in 1991 but failed to make the cleanup a priority. Last
summer, following criticism from local activists, county and DEP
officials promised swift action.
The county hired a new
consultant, who quickly found that the pollution was wider spread than
the county thought. The number of contaminated "hot spots" doubled.
Soil tests found arsenic and lead in neighboring yards. Chemicals had,
in fact, seeped into the Floridan.
Benzene and other pollutants probably leaked from an underground fuel storage tank, the report said.
were also found in the aquifer, including aldrin and dieldrin, both
probable carcinogens. It's unclear where the pesticides came from, the
"It's very frightening," said Linda Young, director of Florida's Clean Water Network, based in Tallahassee.
The chemicals dilute as they move through the Floridan, but she took little comfort in that, she said.
don't know about everybody else, but I don't want to drink it at all,"
Young said. "I don't consider any carcinogenic chemicals in your water
a minor issue, at any level."
Owen, of Tampa Bay Water, said
there are thousands of polluters throughout the state who threaten the
Floridan. She monitors DEP cleanups of dry cleaners, leaking fuel
tanks, and others, some within one-quarter mile of some of the
utility's wells. The utility aggressively monitors water quality, she
Smith, of Brooksville's utility, said he recently tested
the nearby Lamar Avenue wells for pesticides and found no
contamination. The two wells - the city operates five - pump more than
500,000 gallons a day to the city's 10,000 to 12,000 users. He tests
far more often than the law requires, because he is concerned about
polluted sites nearby, including the public works compound.
But residents shouldn't worry, he said. "We're on guard here."
Q&A: polluted floridan aquIfer
Where is the pollution coming from?
County's former public works compound is on W Dr. M.L. King Jr.
Boulevard in South Brooksville. The county used the site from 1955 to
2003 for road painting and repair, mosquito control, refueling, and
fleet maintenance. Chemicals used there include paints, paint thinner,
gasoline, diesel fuel and pesticides. Many of those chemicals or their
byproducts have been found in the soil and groundwater.
What chemicals were found in the Floridan aquifer beneath the public works site?
tests at 120 feet to 125 feet underground detected benzene, a
carcinogen, and the pesticides aldrin and dieldrin, both possible
What is the Floridan aquifer?
Floridan aquifer is an underground water supply found throughout
Florida and parts of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. It provides
most of the drinking water for north and central Florida.
Where is the closest well to the site?
Near the southwest corner of Lamar Avenue and S Main Street, one-half mile north.
Is it safe to drink my tap water?
said Will Smith, utility superintendent for Brooksville. The nearest
wells are tested regularly for contaminants. The water quality meets
state and federal guidelines.