Friday, November 17, 2017
Public safety

Tests of drinking water near Pasco sinkhole comes back clean

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LAND O'LAKES — It goes without saying that the residents of Ocean Pines Drive, where a 225-foot-wide sinkhole opened Friday, have a lot on their minds.

On top of everything else, they are waiting to hear whether E. coli bacteria from human or animal waste has seeped into their drinking water.

Most homes around the sinkhole — which swallowed two homes and was stable as of Monday night — rely on well water, county officials said.

On one hand, that's a good thing because residents who have moved back home haven't dealt with disrupted water service. But wells draw from the aquifer, which could have been contaminated by waste released by septic tanks of the destroyed homes, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The county tested nine homes in the immediate area and 11 other homes at random for E. coli and nitrates — both of which can cause acute illness when consumed — on Monday. Results are expected to be released later this week, said Pasco County spokesman Doug Tobin. n

"Citizens can drink bottled water if they feel concerned," he added.

The county is working with the Florida Department of Health to determine if additional testing is necessary. The Health Department likely will conduct another round of testing in the coming weeks, said its Pasco County spokeswoman Angela Babson.

The county may also test the wells for volatile organic compounds within the coming days, Tobin said. Those are carbon-containing compounds that, at high levels, can cause harm to the central nervous system, the kidneys or the liver. Such compounds may also irritate the skin and some are suspected carcinogens.

Residents who haven't already had their wells tested for E. coli can do so through the county for $7. They also can test for metals such as aluminum and lead for an additional charge.

"If there is any change in water quality, clarity, odor or taste, we suggest their water be tested if within a half a mile of the sinkhole," Babson said.

The sinkhole, which officials say is likely the largest in Pasco in at least 30 years, is filled with dirty water. It's unusual because it has not drained yet. Mud-logged debris, including two boats and a car, has blocked it from doing so.

But the fact that the water inside the sinkhole is stagnant "is not really an issue in this situation" health-wise, Babson said. She added that as far as she's aware, other sinkholes in Pasco haven't led to water contamination in the past.

"But the possibility is there so it's important to be thorough in testing," Babson said.

Mike Camunas owns the property that abuts one of the homes swallowed by the sinkhole. He can see its ragged remains, just a pool and garage, over his back yard fence. The 64-year-old was given the go-ahead by his insurance company to move back in. So that's what he did, along with his wife and daughter. They were among the 11 families who voluntarily evacuated Friday.

Camunas, who built his home in 1982, said he wasn't concerned about water contamination.

"We've been drinking from the taps," he said, "and it seems just fine."

Contact Laura Newberry at lnewberry@tampabay.com. Follow @LauraMNewberry.

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