Many Floridians Unknowingly Drink Contaminated Water
No Notice to Residents at Thousands of Sites Polluted by Leaking Petroleum Tanks
Tallahassee — Florida is plagued by a stain of stealth pollution seeping from thousands of leaking petroleum tanks fouling both surface and groundwater, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The resultant risks to human health are aggravated by gaping holes in public notice requirements, as most affected residents do not know they live atop or next to contaminated sites.
Today, Florida has more than 19,000 contaminated sites registered in the state-funded cleanup programs – half of which (9,971) are still being cleaned up, or are awaiting cleanup. In addition, private parties are responsible for financing cleanups of another 12,000 contaminated sites– 2,657 of which are in cleanup or awaiting cleanup. Altogether, the state still has in excess of 12,000 active contamination sites.
The problem’s magnitude is underlined by the fact that more than half of Florida’s total estimated 44,000 underground and aboveground storage tanks have leaked their remaining petroleum products into the ground. These leaks taint surrounding groundwater and surface waters, as well as soils in the vicinity.
Yet, public awareness of the proximity of these thousands of contaminated sites is limited because –
- State law requires that notice be given only to residents who own, or live on property known to be contaminated and there is no requirement notice be given to other persons, e.g. other persons who may live on contaminated property. Instead, it is up to property owners and/or landlords to decide whether to provide this notice;
- Unless site rehabilitation efforts expand to include neighboring property, residents who live on, or own, property that is adjacent to such property receive no notice of the contamination, even if they have a drinking water well that may cause the underground contamination plume to migrate to that well due to its use; and
- Cleanup of contaminated petroleum sites in Florida can occur without any notice to the public, other than property owners whose property is directly affected by the contamination.
“The location of these sites is not always obvious to the unsuspecting passerby,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) enforcement attorney.
“Since many of the sites were contaminated decades ago and have since been abandoned, it is sometimes difficult to detect past contamination, no matter how severe, just by looking at the property.”
Because DEP notice requirements are so limited, people whose water supply comes from a private well have little idea as to whether they could be at risk. A good example is the debacle in Tallevast in Manatee County where residents were not informed for years about dangerous levels of highly carcinogenic volatile organic compounds in their groundwater.
PEER is urging DEP to affirmatively reach out to every resident with a drinking water or irrigation well who lives within a quarter to half mile of a contaminated site to advise that they should have their water tested.
“DEP should not play hide-the-ball on matters of public health,” added Phillips, noting that residents who want to find out exactly where the contaminated sites are in relation to where they live should call the DEP at (850) 245-8839 to obtain that information.