West Palm Beach officials give update on algae toxin in drinking water

WEST PALM BEACH — West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James said Sunday that “it’s going to take some time” to clear algae toxins from the tap water used by more than 120,000 residents of West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach.

“We hope to be able to lift the advisory for vulnerable populations by the end of the week,” James said at a news conference Sunday.

Customers were first warned against drinking their tap water late Friday after high levels of a toxin caused by blue-green algae, known as cylindrospermopsin, were found in the water supply.

The groups under caution include children under 6, pregnant women, nursing mothers, people with pre-existing liver conditions, the elderly and those receiving dialysis treatment. They are advised to drink only bottled water until the advisory is lifted, though tap water may be used for bathing, washing dishes, cleaning and doing laundry.

Pets are also vulnerable to adverse health effects of cylindrospermopsin exposure, according to the city’s news release. In addition, boiling tap water to drink is ill-advised. That method would not eliminate the toxins, the release stated.

Anyone not among the groups listed can use the water to drink, bathe and cook, James said.

According to the mayor, water testing done on May 17, May 24 and May 25 showed high levels of the algal toxin in the drinking water and well water. The levels tested above 0.7 micrograms per liter.

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James said that the city lab received the first positive test on May 19, and the city took measures to mitigate the toxin by increasing chlorination and adding powder-activated carbon into the water treatment process.

“We were not able to release an advisory to the public without the review and approval of the Florida Department of Health,” James said. “We did not receive this approval until late Friday night, moments before informing the public.

“We had not seen this before in all the testing we had done since 2016, and to our knowledge, nor has any surface water plant in the state as it is an unrelated contaminant that does not have a defined EPA rule.”

Dr. Poonam Kalkat, the city’s director of public utilities, said the city began proactively testing for the toxin in 2016 even though it was not a requirement.

Kalkat said that low water levels in canals and lakes, due to lack of rain, combined with warm temperatures make conditions more conducive for algal blooms to grow.

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