How Florida's Drinking Water is Easily Contaminated
Contaminates get into water sources by absorbing into the ground. Contamination of drinking water sources can occur from raw sewage overflow, septic tanks, leaking sewer lines, and land application of sludge. The absorbed materials contaminate groundwater sources through broken pipes and excess water run-off during heavy rain periods. Seepage overflow into drinking water sources can cause disease from the ingestion of microorganisms such as E Coli and Hepatitis A.
Providing clean water requires extensive infrastructure and government regulations. Aging, stressed, or poorly maintained water infrastructure can cause the quality of piped drinking water to deteriorate below standard levels and pose serious health risks. Rapid population growth and inadequate pollution regulations are complicating our water quality issues. The more we recognize and invest in these issues, the more we can protect public health.
90% of Florida’s drinking water is provided by aquifers, huge underground rocks made of porous limestone containing a large amount of fresh water. Unfortunately, aquifer water is easily contaminated because of Florida’s unique soil layer, high water table, porous limestone, and large quantities of rainfall.
According to the EPA, polluted groundwater can reach drinking water systems and pose serious public health threats, particularly to children and young adults. Chemicals from various manufacturers and microbial contaminants can quickly enter the state’s aquifer water.
Not All Chemicals Are Regulated
Some water systems have contaminants that aren't regulated. For instance, dangerous perfluorinated chemicals are pouring out of faucets in homes across the world. Still, because they aren't regulated, they don't show up in violations of water quality standards put in place to protect health.
It can be challenging to determine how much of a chemical is too much because the amount of water someone drinks varies from person to person, and certain groups are more at risk than others.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
There has not been a single new standard set in 24 years that wasn't required by Congress. There are regulatory problems, even knowing the health dangers of certain chemicals for decades. Congress can play a larger role in infrastructure and preventing contamination from happening in the first place. We need national standards that are protective of all American's.
Boiling Water Can Concentrate Certain Chemicals
When drinking water in a specific area becomes contaminated, the local government sends out “boil water notices,” where they instruct you to boil your drinking water for at least one minute before using it. Boiling kills most types of parasites, bacteria, and viruses but increases concentrations of other contaminants due to the evaporation of water.
Boiling water can concentrate chemicals like PFAS. Chemicals like PFAS in water cannot be broken down, and you can't "kill" chemicals like this. Rhode Island Department of Health says not to boil water for this reason. You can read more by visiting: https://health.ri.gov/water/about/pfas/
Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (fluoride) in Drinking Water
Is your city putting medical-grade fluoride or Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (HFSA) into your drinking water? Hydrofluorosilicic Acid comes from the phosphate fertilizer industry and is contaminated with other toxins like aluminum. Central Florida has some of the largest phosphate deposits in the world. In the process of mining, it creates liquid waste from pollution scrubbers that convert toxic vapors into Fluorosilicic Acid. What is being added to your drinking water is transported from Florida fertilizer factories. Without fluoridation, the phosphate industry would be stuck with an expensive waste disposal problem.
Unlike pharmaceutical-grade fluoride in toothpaste, the fluoride in your water is an untreated industrial waste produced by the phosphate industry. Saying yes to this "fluoride" means you support one of Central Florida's biggest polluters who contributes to the destruction of Florida's environment and water quality.
PFAS Chemicals in Ground and Drinking Water
Once released into the environment, PFAS doesn’t break down, which is why they are called “forever chemicals.” They build up in the blood and organs, which may cause potential long-term risks to human health and the environment.
These fluorinated chemicals were found in the blood and tissues of wildlife near the Kennedy Space Center by Biologists in 2018. Many of the highest detections of PFAS in water were found at military bases, and in 2018 a Department of Defense report showed that Patrick Air Force Base is the third most PFAS-contaminated base in the United States. They found levels 57,000 times greater than the health advisory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. These forever chemicals are in groundwater throughout Brevard County.
Check if your community is impacted by PFOA and PFOS: https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2017_pfa/
Phosphate Mining Industry Impacts on Water
Several studies have discussed the impact of phosphate mining on water quality. Most of the concerns are associated with acidic process water, radionuclides, phosphate runoff, and toxic fluoride and heavy metals in the runoff. Arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, and cadmium are frequently associated with phosphate rock. The dominant radioactivity detected in phosphate rocks is uranium and thorium.
Watch the documentary Phosfate to learn more about the environmental effects the phosphate mining industry has on Florida's environment and human health: www.phosfatemovie.com
Hydrofluorsilisc Acid is put into drinking water across America and is called "fluoride."
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Fight For Zero test my water? Fight For Zero is a nonprofit organization that relies on donors to help fund our research, outreach, and projects. Our hope is to find lab partners like Tap Score to provide communities with the resources they need to take on these challenges. We work on empowering communities by teaching science and providing them with the resources they need to succeed in their quest to find answers and safeguard their families. If you need collaboration on your project, please feel free to reach out to us.
Can my water have lead? If your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986, it could leach into your water from the pipes leading to your house. You can read more about lead in U.S. drinking water here: https://www.sciline.org/water-quality/drinking-lead/
Is bottled water safe to drink? Bottled water is filtered tap water and is generally safe to drink. However, this was never meant to be used as your main source of drinking water. Bottled water is meant for emergency situations. Bottled water companies pump millions of gallons of water out of the ground, which means there are millions of gallons less. When you pump groundwater unsustainably, the level of the water table drops, and groundwater depletion can negatively impact lakes and wetlands. It takes 3x the amount of water to produce a plastic bottle to fill that same bottle. We're giving giant corporations resources at a little cost while the community suffers the impacts.
Is my drinking water safe? The only way to know if your drinking water is safe from contaminants is by testing it. There is an annual drinking water report for your city water, but this report does not consider unregulated contaminants like PFAS and perchlorate. The water is tested coming out of the water treatment facility, but this doesn't show what the water may be picking up on its way to your faucet. If your city is dealing with poor infrastructure, constant main breaks, and continuous flooding, there is a chance of contaminants getting into the water.
Is my well water safe? If you are on well water, you won't get a water quality report. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act does not regulate the safety of water from private wells. More than one in five wells tested from 1991-2004 contained one or more contaminants at concentrations more significant than a human-health benchmark: Pubs.usgs.gov
Contaminates of Concern
Many people never become suspicious of drinking water until people in the community start to get sick. Whether you have water near agricultural areas or industrial plants, here are some contaminants of concern:
Antimony: A naturally occurring metal that enters tap water from plumbing fittings or industrial use. Health concerns are harmful to the liver and change to the stomach and intestines.
Arsenic: Cancer-causing contaminant in drinking water. It causes thousands of cancer cases (skin, bladder, liver, & prostate cancer) each year in the U.S. It can come from wood preservatives, petroleum production, pesticides, industrial deposits, and coal power plants. It also has cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine disruption effects.
Barium: From manufacturing mineral deposits, smelting of copper, and disposal of drilling wastes. High concentrations of barium in drinking water increase the risk of increased blood pressure, changes in heart rhythm, stomach irritation, brain swelling, and damage to the liver, kidney, heart, and spleen.
Cadmium: From corrosion of pipes, erosion of natural deposits, discharge from metal refineries, runoff from waste batteries and paints. Potential health effects are diarrhea, sensory disturbances, liver injury, concussions, kidney, liver, bone, and blood damage.
Carbon Tetrachloride: A volatile carcinogenic solvent that has been used in industrial chemical production and as a dry cleaning ingredient. Health concerns are cancer, harm to the liver, harm to the central nervous system, harm to the kidney, and decrease fertility.
Chloramine: Comes from municipal treatment. It can cause hemolytic anemia when present in dialysis process water.
Chlorate: Forms in drinking water as a byproduct of disinfection. It is linked to impaired thyroid function, which can be harmful during pregnancy and childhood.
Chromium (hexavalent): Cancer-causing chemical made notorious by the film "Erin Brockovich." It causes harm to the liver and reproductive system.
Copper: From industrial discharges, copper plumbing materials due to corrosion, and copper salts used for algae control in reservoirs. Potential health effects are nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal illness, abdominal and muscle pain, anemia, liver poisoning, and kidney failure.
Cyanobacteria: Bacteria that come from the rapid growth of blue-green algae and endangers drinking water supplies across the world. When ingested, cyanotoxins can attack the liver, create abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, inflamed and bleeding liver, pneumonia, or kidney damage, and might even promote tumor growth. Some cyanobacteria produce unpleasant tastes and odors, which results in water treatment facilities increasing disinfectant byproducts.
Di (2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate: A softener added to PVC plastics. Phthalates are hormone disruptors that target the male reproductive system.
Dioxins: Released during combustion, such as the burning of hazardous waste, forest fires, cigarette smoke, and burning oil and coal. Long-term exposure can affect the immune, nervous, endocrine, and reproductive system.
Disinfection Byproducts: Chemicals used in drinking water disinfection processes, such as chlorine, trihalomethanes, and haloacetic acids, are added to drinking water for purification, despite it not being completely safe. Chlorine is a reactive chemical and bonds with water, including the water in your gut. A mixture of these chemicals, forming byproducts, may damage cells and increase cancer risk.
Fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid): Comes from municipally treated water. Potential health effects are skeletal fluorosis, bone disorder resembling osteoporosis, and abnormal fragility of the bones.
Haloacetic acids (HAA5): Formed when disinfectant such as chlorine is added to tap water. Harmful to fetal growth and development and cancer concerns.
Lead: From lead-containing solder, service line, and fittings of different types of industrial processes. Potential health effects are reduced intelligence, impaired hearing, decreased growth in children, damage to the brain, kidneys, bone marrow, nervous system, and red blood cells.
Mercury: Mercury vapor can linger in the atmosphere and ride the winds halfway around the globe. It can cause brain damage, cognitive disability, headaches, weakness, tremors, mood swings, memory loss, and skin rashes.
Nitrate: Sources of contamination are human sewage and livestock manure, fertilizers, and erosion of natural deposits. It can cause oxygen deprivation in infants and increase the risk of cancer.
Pathogens: Bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, nausea, headaches, and fever can find a way into water supplies inadequately treated to kill germs.
PCBs: Polychlorinated biphenyls are chemicals used for industrial purposes such as insulation, oil, paints, adhesives, and fluorescent lights. PCBs were banned in 1979 but are still present in landfills. They break down slowly and infiltrate the environment. Ingestion of these chemicals can cause cancer, nervous, and endocrine system issues.
Perchlorate: Toxic chemicals used in rocket fuel, explosive road flairs, can interfere with thyroid hormone production. They dissolve and seep into groundwater from military and industrial sites.
Pesticides: Atrazine, DDT, glyphosate, HCB (hexachlorobenzene), and dacthal are some of the most commonly detected pesticide chemicals in water and soil. Some of these chemicals are persistent and can travel long distances in the atmosphere. Runoff from agricultural areas enters groundwater and contaminate wells. Epidemiological studies have reported associated damage to adrenal glands, kidneys, liver, thyroid, spleen, and cancer risk to these chemicals.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFHPA): A member of perfluorinated chemicals used in many consumer products can cause serious health effects such as endocrine disruption, accelerated puberty, liver and immune system damage, thyroid changes, and cancer.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS): A member of perfluorinated chemicals used in many consumer products. PFOS can cause serious health effects, including cancer, endocrine disruption, accelerated puberty, liver and immune system damage, and thyroids changes.
Perfluorinated chemicals are persistent in the environment, and they accumulate in people.
Radioactive contaminants: Radioactive material from the production of nuclear weapons, energy, and medicines can get in drinking supplies through leaks and improper waste storage. Exposure can cause cancer or kidney failure.
Radium-226: A radioactive element that causes bone cancer and other cancers.
Radium-228: A radioactive element that causes bone cancer and other cancers.
Selenium: Sources of the contaminant are natural deposits and releases from copper smelting. Potential health effects are hair and fingernail changes, damage to the peripheral nervous system, fatigue, and irritability.
Strontium: Radiative strontium-90 can cause bone cancer and leukemia, and any form of strontium at high doses can harm bone health.
Thallium: A naturally occurring metal released into the environment from metal smelting and coal burning. Exposure to too much thallium can cause harm loss, liver damage, central nervous system damage, and harm to the male reproductive system.
Total trihalomethane (TTHMs): Cancer-causing contaminants that form during water treatment with chlorine and other disinfectants. It is linked to bladder cancer, skin cancer, and fetal development issues.
Vinyl Chloride: Used to make PVC plastic products, vinyl chloride is a cancer-causing contaminant that can leach from older piping and has been found in drinking water.
Uranium: Source is radioactive decay of uranium and thorium in rocks and soil. The potential health effect is an increased risk of cancer.
Environmental Working Groups Tap Water Database: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/
Table of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants
Want to test your water? Check out Fight For Zero's testing guide: https://www.fight4zero.org/testingwater
Check Fight For Zero's Pollution Map of Florida: https://www.fight4zero.org/toxicmap
Consider donating to Fight For Zero to help raise public awareness
Fight For Zero is a nonprofit organization that works on environmental health projects. Our goal is to empower advocates and communities to take on water quality challenges through resources and education.