Belleair’s drinking water is below U.S. standards, but a fix is taking time
Officials wrestle with high levels of a chemical that could cause health problems over many decades.
Belleair officials assure its 4,100 residents their drinking water is safe, but for nearly two years, the water has tested for unlawful levels of trihalomethanes, a disinfection byproduct linked to certain cancers and other diseases when consumed in high amounts over a lifetime.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection placed the town under a consent order in November to fix the problem, but concerns over the cost are delaying a solution.
Treatments like the blend of chlorine and ammonia Belleair uses are required “to eliminate the kind of microscopic organisms that can kill you in a week,” said Paul Chadik, associate professor emeritus in the University of Florida’s environmental engineering sciences department.
But town officials have been unable to get the byproduct of that process under allowable levels.
Greg Turman, Belleair’s lead water plant operator, suspects the issue could be related to the other problem affecting Belleair’s water supply.
For more than a decade, chloride concentrations have been rising in the town’s system as groundwater along Florida’s coast has become saltier. While the chemical can affect taste and color, it isn’t toxic by itself.
Chlorine used in the treatment process can react with bromide, an element naturally present in saltwater, to form bromoform, one of the four trihalomethane compounds. Bromoform is the most prevalent trihalomethane appearing in Belleair’s water, leading Turman to believe the chloride increases are contributing to the formation of the byproduct. However, more study would be needed to confirm the connection, he said.