Tallahassee — The Palm Beach County Department of Health has filed a notice of violation against the City of Boca Raton for long-standing safe drinking water violations, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The five-count notice demands immediate corrective actions by the City of Boca Raton Utilities Department in lieu of facing fines totaling up to $5,000 a day covering, in some cases, years of violations.
The troubled city utility, which delivers 70 million gallons of water per day to customers, has been the subject of persistent reports of problems from its own workers. The latest “Notice of Violation and Orders for Corrective Action” issued by the Palm Beach County Health Department via certified mail on September 19th cites a series of Florida Safe Drinking Water Act violations by Boca Raton, including –
- Inadequate cross-contamination safeguards to prevent waste water from entering drinking water lines. The Health Department found the city had been aware of problems since February 2006;
- Illegal chemical injection system hooked up to city water lines. This violation covers eight years;
- Reconnecting disinfected wells to city lines without adequate microbiological surveys to ensure removal of harmful contaminants; and
- Failure to conduct thorough tests for the presence of lead and copper in water lines.
“Something smells in Boca Raton besides its water,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, noting that Boca Raton is facing a high-profile whistleblower state lawsuit from Christine Ferrigan, who had served as Utility Coordinator for 23 years. “I am glad that the complaints from employees inside the utilities department have finally been heard.”
The Notice of Violation requires that Boca Raton “immediately (i.e., within 24 hours)” cease any cross-connections without adequate back-flow prevention devices to keep sewage out of potable water and to begin appropriate lead and copper testing. In addition, the city must obtain county permission before re-connecting any wells to drinking water systems and begin an enhanced inspection regime.
This latest action by the Palm Beach County Health Department follows an April 2009 “Warning Letter” it issued to Boca Raton in which it found that workers’ complaints of widespread problems in the city’s water distribution system had been verified. PEER has also asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to intervene in Boca Raton to address festering Safe Drinking Water Act violations because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has for years looked the other way. Yet, both the EPA and the DEP have failed to take a firm position on this case, leaving it to the Florida Department of Health to force the City to come into compliance.
It remains to be seen whether Boca Raton will comply with the county health department order or will contest the findings and risk imposition of fines.
“There is no excuse for these basic sanitary violations in any American city, let alone a city as affluent as Boca Raton” Phillips added. “The problem in Boca Raton is a city government and utilities department leadership that is rotten to the core and capable of tolerating these dangerous conditions for years on end.”