Where Does Florida’s Tap Water Come From?
Most of the potable water in Florida comes from underground made of porous limestone that contain a large amount of fresh water. The balance comes from surface water, and is treated at municipal water treatment facilities.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink?
The EPA regulates contaminants in public water supplies under the SDWA. And from their analysis, Florida’s tap water is safe to drink because it meets federal drinking water standards.
According to the EWG, a drinking water quality report for Florida provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) shows that Florida residents have been exposed to unhealthy concentrations of the following contaminants:
Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)
Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) are a group of cancer-causing chemicals formed when chlorine reacts with other disinfectants or naturally occurring dissolved organic matter in water. Lifelong exposure to TTHMs is associated with bladder and skin cancer, stillbirths, congenital disabilities, and an increased risk of kidney and liver cancer. It can also harm fetal growth and development.
The EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for TTHMs in drinking water is 80 ppb, way more than the 0.15 ppb the EWG recommends. Perhaps even more shocking, an EWG report shows that under 1500 Florida water systems serving around 20 million residents contained TTHMs levels higher than the 0.15 ppb health guideline.
Haloacetic acids (HAA5)
Like trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids (HAA5) are a group of disinfection byproducts produced when chlorine reacts with naturally occurring materials in water. When people consume haloacetic acids at high levels over many years, they increase their risk of developing bladder cancer.
Other health effects of haloacetic acids include rectal and colon cancer and adverse developmental and reproductive effects during pregnancy. They have been studied with mixed results; however, the weight of evidence of the health effects data suggests a potential association. HAA5 may also cause skin loss and inflammation and damage to the structural protein collagen in the skin’s connective tissues.
Hexavalent Chromium (Chromium-6)
Hexavalent chromium, aka chromium-6, is primarily an industrial pollutant used in wood preservation and anti-corrosion metal coatings but also occurs naturally in the environment, specifically in rocks, plants, soil, etc. Pollution can arise when industrial sites improperly dispose of waste materials, causing the chemical to seep into groundwater and surface water.
Even in small amounts, chromium-6 can cause various health complications. In 2008, the National Toxicology Program, or NTP, found a significant increase in stomach and intestinal tumors in rats and mice exposed to chromium-6.
EPA has a drinking water standard of 0.1 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or 100 parts per billion (ppb) for total chromium, including all chromium forms, including chromium-6. However, many Florida water systems don’t meet that standard.
High levels of arsenic in private wells may come from arsenic-containing fertilizers used in the past or due to industrial waste. So, since most of Florida’s tap water comes from groundwater, arsenic from the surrounding rocks can make its way into the water.
Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)
Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS for short, is a water and stain-resistant synthetic compound widely used to make carpets, fire-fighting foams, paper packaging for food, and other materials resistant to water, grease, or stains.
PFOS chemicals are difficult to break down, so they can continue to exist in the environment and drinking water sources for decades. Exposure to PFOS over certain levels can result in adverse health effects, including congenital disabilities, cancers, liver effects, and more.
PFOS in drinking water is a nationwide problem, affecting at least 97% of Americans. Higher-than-average levels of PFOS/PFOA were found in more than 25 of Florida’s public water systems.
Like arsenic, high nitrate levels in drinking water can be dangerous to health, especially for infants and pregnant women.
Nitrate mainly enters the water supply through agricultural and urban runoff, discharges from wastewater treatment plans, and septic systems. Approximately half of all applied nitrogen drains from farms contaminate surface water and groundwater. Hence, nitrate concentrations in our water systems have also increased significantly and are expected to continue.
High nitrate levels in drinking water have been linked to colon, kidney, ovarian, and bladder cancers. Researchers from the EWG say the chemical is responsible for over 10,000 cancer cases a year.
Florida’s Tap Water Usually Taste and Smell Funny!
Like most major cities, public water supplies in the metropolitan areas of Florida can look, taste, and smell differently due to various factors. It’s generally not the dangerous toxins that cause the taste and smell complaints but rather the water source, the state’s geology, hard water, chlorine, organic matter, etc.
- Water Source: Florida gets its water from underground aquifers, lakes, and rivers, and the mineral content in these sources can vary. Groundwater can taste differently due to various factors, such as the minerals from the soil and rock as the water moves through the ground, bacteria or other microorganisms, and dissolved gases like sulfur. Some Floridians report a slight sulfur or earthy taste due to naturally occurring sulfur compounds in some of Florida’s underground water sources.
- Geology: Florida is flat, with very few peaks and valleys acting as physical barriers against contaminants. Its water sources are usually interconnected, so what impacts one affects all of them. Typically, wells and surface water sources are low in elevation, making them more prone to seawater intrusions that give drinking water a salty taste. Additionally, tannins produced by decaying vegetation in swampy areas turn southern Florida tap water yellow. Safe to drink, perhaps, but high concentrations of tannins and other elements are enough to cause a musty smell and an “off” flavor.
- Hard water: Florida’s tap water can contain high levels of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which can cause it to have a distinctive taste and can leave behind mineral buildup on fixtures and appliances. While hard water is not a health risk and is safe to drink, the mineral buildup and the taste of the water can be a nuisance. Consider installing a water softener in your home to remove the “hardness” minerals from the water, making it “soft.”
- Chlorine: Florida’s water treatment facilities chlorinate the water supply to kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. However, chlorine can give the water a distinct chemical-like taste and smell.
- Algae and other organic matter: Florida’s warm climate and many bodies of water can lead to an overgrowth of algae, giving the water a musty or earthy taste and smell. Additionally, Florida’s water is sourced from underground aquifers, containing dissolved organic matter that can cause the water to have a funny flavor and odor.
Nova whole house filters, softeners and reverse osmosis can remove these contaniments.