By Rich Pollack
Acting on orders from the state health department, Delray Beach will continue testing its drinking water for the presence of cancer-linked “forever chemicals,” even as the city reinforces its contention that the water doesn’t pose a health hazard and is safe to drink.
In a Nov. 23 letter to Delray Beach Utilities Director Hassan Hadjimiry, representatives of the Florida Department of Health ordered the city to conduct quarterly sampling at each of its 30 water wells — as well as at the point where finished water leaves the treatment plant — for the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
The state is asking that the sampling be conducted over a 12-month period and that results be submitted to the state within seven days.
PFAS compounds, which are synthetic chemicals used in stain repellents, nonstick pans as well as polishes, paints and coatings, have been linked to increased incidences of cancer as well as other health issues such as ulcerative colitis and thyroid disease. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they accumulate in the human body and stay in the environment indefinitely.
The federal government, through the Environmental Protection Agency, has set 70 parts per trillion as an advisory level and Delray Beach says that the amount of PFAS found in its water is well below that level.
In a Nov. 25 letter responding to the correspondence from state officials, Hadjimiry pointed out that the city conducted two tests since August. In the first test, he said, 49 parts per trillion were detected and a second test, conducted in October, showed .43 parts per trillion, which is considered a non-detectable quantity.
Hadjimiry said the city had already planned to conduct another test in December and has requested that a representative from the health department be present during testing.
City spokeswoman Gina Carter said that Hadjimiry had reached out to state health officials prior to receiving the Nov. 23 letter to advise them of the steps the city is taking.
“Our city is being held to a standard that no other city in the state has to meet and our Utilities Department has gone above and beyond to be transparent,” Carter said. “None of our neighboring cities, who use the same source aquifer, will be testing for PFAS.”
Delray’s efforts to reinforce the safety of its drinking water may in part be spurred by a report earlier this year from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — or PEER, an environmental watchdog group — that criticized the city for what it contends are high PFAS levels.
“The city of Delray Beach is committed to regularly testing water samples for PFAS in order to refute the misleading claims made by PEER earlier this year and to provide clarity to our customers,” Carter said.