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Florida Water Treatment

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EPA clears DEP action on radium Feds investigate handling of drinking water violations

Elizabeth Bluemink @PensacolaNewsJournal.com

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has found no fault with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s handling of previous radium drinking water violations by the Escambia County Utilities Authority.

“The bottom line is that Florida took appropriate action following the ECUA’s failure to notify about radium in a timely manner,” said James Giattina, director of the EPA’s regional Water Management division, based in Atlanta, on Friday.

EPA analyzed state records and correspondence with the Utilities Authority to determine whether the state agency followed assigned rules for addressing drinking-water contamination.

ECUA wells supplying drinking water to Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach recorded unsafe levels of radium from 1996 to 2000. In 2000, DEP fined the Utilities Authority $15,500 for violating the radium safety standard and failing to notify the public about the contamination until 1998.

EPA initiated its review in September when federal regulators learned about the radium violations from News Journal articles, said Liza Montalvo, the agency’s drinking water program manager for Florida.

“We have been working on this ever since we became aware of the issue,” Montalvo said.

Montalvo said she identified one technical error by DEP’s Pensacola-based Northwest District office: It did not post information about ECUA radium violations in the federal Safe Drinking Water Information System, a public database of drinking-water contaminant records.

The omission included the radium violation data and DEP’s $15,500 fine against the Utilities Authority.

The state agency has since plugged in the data. “This issue has been resolved,” Giattina said. DEP’s drinking-water section administrator, Van Hoofnagle, said he was pleased by the federal agency’s findings. “It looks like we got a pretty good report card,” he said. The database error cited by EPA “was a problem, but it’s more of a technical issue,” he said.

ECUA Executive Director Steve Sorrell said, “The DEP is firm when it has to be but it is always reasonable.”

Since 2001, ECUA drinking-water supply wells have tested safe for radium. Sorrell said the utility is awaiting results of radium testing on nearly a dozen wells that have not had radium violations in the past. The utility’s other wells tested safe in December.

ECUA also is expecting test results for a host of other contaminants in all of its wells.