Okaloosa County can claim once again that its water is lead free.
Samples collected last week from 60 county homes were returned to the Okaloosa County Water and Sewer Department Monday and not a single residence showed lead levels exceeding the acceptable federal standard.
“Obviously, these findings are very good,” said department director Jeff Littrell. “We have a very high level of confidence in the safety of our water supply.”
The sample results come as a relief to officials who were caught off guard last November when four of 30 samples taken in southern Okaloosa County were returned with lead levels that exceeded the federal standards.
The results surpassed an “action level” that forced the Water and Sewer Department, which hadn’t seen similar numbers in many years, to double down on the amount of lead testing it was doing. Where the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had previously required sampling every three years, the county must test twice this year.
A state and federal mandate was also triggered by last year’s findings. It required the county to send notices to 25,000 customers notifying them about what happened and provide information about the dangers of exposure to lead.
Testing was also expanded to include 60 homes where in the past samples were taken at only 30 residences. The homes selected for testing were located in unincorporated Fort Walton Beach, Mary Esther, Shalimar and Okaloosa Island.
All of the homes selected for random testing were built between 1982 and 1986. Houses built during this frame of time are more likely to have plumbing containing trace amounts of lead. It is suspected lead and copper most often get into the water from fixtures inside the home, as opposed to the pipes bringing water into a home.
When the November results arrived Water and Sewer Department administrators suspected the four residences exceeding lead standards was more likely due to an anomaly than contamination within the water system.
One home’s lead numbers were high enough that the home was retested almost immediately, and while it still came back exceeding acceptable standards, the lead level was much lower following the second test.
This time around, the same home showed lead levels of 0.0014 parts per million on a standard by which 0.015 is considered the “action level,” exceeding what is acceptable. The highest lead measurement at any of the 60 homes sampled was 0.0091, Littrell said.
“This was really a good sample,” he said.
Littrell said he is hopeful a second test like the one for which results were received Monday will prompt DEP to grant the county leeway to go back to testing for lead every three years.