Water samples show toxic chemicals found above EPA standards in Pinellas County's water

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - An ABC Action News independent water investigation reveals toxic chemicals in water samples in Pinellas County's water supply, but the county says the water is still safe to use.

For the past month, ABC Action News has been looking into a temporary method Pinellas County uses to disinfect their water. 

Since 2002 the county's utility department has used Chloramine to disinfectant the water by combining chlorine with ammonia to kill bacteria like e.coli. 

However, twice a year they use Chlorine to treat the water because a stronger disinfectant is needed during the warmer months.

Environmental advocate, Erin Brockovich sounded off against the county last month warning people to avoid hot showers and avoid steam from the dishwasher and sinks because of dangerous vapors. 

You can read more about it here: Pinellas County residents may experience water taste, odor difference.

ABC Action News took independent water samples from a home in Pinellas Park before the county did the Chlorine conversion, and again during the conversion to see if a toxic chemical, trihalomethanes would be present. 

The trihalomethanes (THMs) are a chemical compound that can form in the water. 

A brochure of Frequently Asked Questions by Pinellas County explains that the USEPA has determined some THMs to be carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) for people. 

The maximum contaminant level set by the EPA is 80 parts per billion. 

We found that the home we tested, where Jen Kostecki lives was below the EPA standard before the routine maintenance, however, while Chlorine was being used to disinfect the water, the levels were above the guideline. 

For Total Trihalomethanes the samples taken to Advanced Environmental Laboratories in Tampa revealed higher levels. 

The results show THMs level at 95.90. 

According to Pinellas County Utilities Director Randi Kim, levels above the standards are okay once in a while. 

This graph from Kim shows the county found higher levels above 80 parts per billion too. 

However, individual jurisdictions like Pinellas County only have to report the average for the year to the EPA.

The year average for 2016 was 48 parts per billion, below the 80 parts per billion regulations. 

Kim explains that small amounts of THM exposures are not a health concern, it's when a person is exposed over a prolonged period of time. 

She points out that it is similar to a mammogram or X-ray, where you are exposed to small amounts of radiation for a short time. 

"But, we know the health benefits far outweighs that very small exposure to radiation," said Kim. 

USF professor Jeffrey Cunningham in the water resources engineering division says Chlorine is not unusual to disinfect water. 

He points out there are other alternatives, but each method has its own risk.

Hillsborough County for example used to do the Chlorine Conversion method, but stopped ten years ago after they heard concerns from their customers.

Instead, they do a method called, 'flushing' where they let the water run for a longer period of time to push out the stale water. This gets criticism though for wasting water. 

Cunningham says other methods instead of the Chlorine Conversion are more expensive. 

Still, some in Pinellas County like Pat Damiano aren't convinced, "so what do we do," she asked, "do we listen to the county or our heads."

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