une city's water woes
illustrate proposed rule
The rule is designed to
protect the areas around
public wells in Florida.
By KIM KLEMAN
Tribune Staff Writer
PENSACOLA In this historic Navy town,
where towering live oaks shade hundred-year-
Sold Victorian homes, residents say all was right
with their world until this summer, that is.
when something went terribly wrong.
That something is city water, which has I Contaminated
been found to contain a solvent suspected of wells
Now, seven wells are closed that exceeded
state standards for the chemical about a
quarter of all public wells. Officials advised sac
some residents to boil their water and imposed
the first water-use restrictions in the county's
history to avert a severe water shortage.
As Pensacola ponders cleanup measures.
the state is proposing a plan to protect large
public wells throughout Florida to avoid similar
The so-called "G-I rule," up for adoption in
December, would establish protection zones
around large public wells to forbid or restrict
discharges, depending on the type and their
proximity to wells. Suspected
Added municipal well protection is Impor- source of
tant for Hillsborough, Pasco. and Pinellas coun- contamination
ties because 80 percent to 85 percent of rest-
dents depend on public water supplies, accord-
lng to the West Coast Regional Water Supply
Without the G-l rule, a pesticide company
could build a holding pond for waste next to a
public well if the proper zoning were approved.
The proposed law would forbid that.
G-1 also would protect wells that are in PS
areas that will become less and less remote ( 1
with growth. J
"In 50 years from now. Temple Terrace and P'
other areas may grow up all around the well tc
fields," said Glenn Dykes of the Florida De-
partment of Environmental Regulation. t ~ *
Already, county wells in growing northwest
Hillsborough County are ringed by residential
areas, said West Coast's Scott Emery.
In Pensacola and surrounding Escambia Source Florida D mepWrtnt of Environmental Regula
County, which once boasted breezily of "the TdbIun gmphic by PRAN CLANTON
cleanest water in Florida." residents fear the
rule may be too late.
"We took too much for granted too long. Ab-
solutely." said Richard A. Dunlap. director of
environmental health at the Escumbia County
Public Health Unit.
"It's going to iake 25 or 30 years to clean the
chemicals from the aquifer." the underground
cavity that contains ground water, he said.
He is referring to tetrachloroethylene, also
called perchloroetnylene, or PCE. The chemi-
cal is used in the dry-dleaning industry as a
cleaning agent, and in machine shops and mili-
tary bases as a degreaser. It is suspected of
* From Page 1B
causing cancer in humans based on
experiments with laboratory rats.
Residents, who never really
thought about their water supply be-
fore, are on their guard now.
."I'm a lot more leery than I used
to be," admits Jack Helm, of Pensa-
cola Beach, where for a week people
;were advised to boil their water. The
'beach's water tanks had been filled
'by the contaminated wells In Pensa-
cola. "How long do we have to wait
before they find another poisoned
Pensacola's problems date to the
1940s, when wells were constructed
In downtown areas that also at-
Wells are scattered throughout
Pensacola and abut dry cleaners,
highways, auto repair shops, homes
and vacant lots.
For years it has been common
practice for businesses and residents
to dump leftover oil, solvents and
other chemicals on the ground or in
landfills. These dangerous pollutants
seep easily into the ground which
is porous in Pensacola and through-
out Florida and into the ground
water that cities tap for wells.
"From garages to cleaning
plants, people have been doing what
they want to do (with waste)," la-
mented Dunlap. "In this part of the
state ... when you pour something in
the yard, it's going to get in the
Officials hope the proposed well-
protection rule and the Pensacola
well contamination spawn a new
concern over ground-water pollu-
"There's a poor siting of wells In
this state. They're located all over,"
said Howard Rhodes, DER's director
of environmental programs.
For Pensacola, the location of Its
wells could mean PCE contamina-
tion is only the beginning of the
"There's no telling how much is
out there," said Steve Burgess of the
Escambia County Utilities Authority,
which operates 31 wells In Pensa-
cola and outlying areas for county
Various chemicals have contami-
nated public wells in Miami, Fort
Lauderdale, Riviera Beach, Vero
Beach and Hallandale, among other
Large municipal wells never
have been contaminated in Hillsbor-
ough County, although private wells
have. The latest problem in Hlllsbor-
ough Is PCE, which is showing up in
private wells In the area of 66th
Street and Broadway Avenue.
The Pensacola wells are among
the first public wells to show wide-
spread contamination of PCE.
Pensacola officials still don't
know the source of the pollution but
have narrowed the search to a one-
block area that has housed several
dry cleaners. PCE could have been
dumped on the ground more than 15
years ago, they said.
It was found here by accident,
when a DER reseacher drew what
he thought to be clean water from a
laboratory spigot to compare with a
suspect water sample from a poten-
tlally polluted site.
On May 28, the Tallahassee lab
that analyzed the samples called to
report PCE In the test tube of tap
"The first thing we thought is,
'Maybe we contaminated the sample
in the lab,'" said Mike Kennedy, of
DER in Pensacola. "That's an easy
thing to happen. But when we ran a
second one, It came out of that too."
The utilities authority tested
wells and in June shut off six that ex-
ceeded state standards for PCE by
as much as 53 times. Another well
was closed Sept. 19 after traces of
PCE and benzene were found.
Residents who drank the water
are not at great risk, officials said.
Tap water was mixed from several
wells polluted and unpolluted -
which means PCE levels from the
spigot were somewhat reduced.
Residents could have been drink-
ing PCE-tainted water for two to
three months, the time between cur-
rent and previous well tests. PCE is
a severe threat only when Ingested
in much higher levels over a life-
time, Dunlap says.
The well contamination problem
created others. A water shortage de-
veloped after the wells were shut,
forcing officials to Impose water-use
restrictions that lasted throughout
In the midst of water restric-
tions, a million-gallon water tower
burst Aug. 2, creating a greater
The day after officials an-
nounced they would lift the water
restrictions, the seventh well was
found to be tainted and was closed.
Tommy Henderson, a 32-year-old
who drinks about a gallon of water a
day, was shocked when he learned
of the water pollution. "I thought I
was knocking at death's door," he
"People's attitude was, 'We had
the cleanest water in Florida,'" Bur-
gess said. "I had people crying on
the phone. Their lawns were turning
brown. Where they were upset was,
not being able to water their lawns."
The situation has sparked in-
tense interest in who caused the con-
tamination. Headlines blared last
week when officials told the press
they limited the contamination to a
"I went in and screamed," when
dry cleaners were said to be a possi-
ble source, said Jake Vick of Vick's
Cleaners, a family-owned chain op-
erating since 1918 in Pensacola.
"Dry cleaners shouldn't be singled
out. We weren't the only business
that used it.
"I was scared to death by some
of the comments on the radio," he
said. "I really think sales were hurt
bad by this."
The utilities authority is in hot
pursuit of the polluter, in part to re-
cover the $3.1 million it will cost to
clean the water with carbon filters.
The authority hopes to have the
well filters installed by April 1, when
the gardening season begins and
residents water lawns, Burgess said.
And researchers hope the county
and state implement rules to protect
against future contamination.
"We're not very well protected,"
Kennedy said. "God knows, every-
thing (business) in the world has
been down here. There may be a lot
of areas of contamination sitting out
there. The area needs protection of