BONIFAY – Bonifay City Council members discussed the recent water issue faced by town residents when the board met in regular session November 13.

Public Works Superintendent Jack Marell assured the council that the town’s water supply was safe to drink.

“There were elevated levels of lead, but nothing that is unsafe for consumption,” said Marell.

Several City of Bonifay residents are alarmed following an advisement that the city’s water recently tested positive for “elevated levels of lead” in some buildings.

The advisement was included in residents’ recent water billing statements.

Bonifay City Clerk Beverly Gilley stated in a phone interview last week that the issue lies not in the water supply, but rather in the fixtures of some older structures.

“Our water supply is fine,” said Gilley, echoing Marell's statement. “The water system is free of lead and safe to use, but some homes with older pipes are seeing elevated lead levels.”

“When water is in contact for several hours with pipes [or service lines] or plumbing that contains lead, the lead may enter the drinking water,” she added. “Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have plumbing containing lead. New homes may also have lead; even “lead-free” plumbing may contain some lead.”

The City of Bonifay has four water wells, sourced from the Floridan Aquifer. The water system collected 20 samples at taps or faucets in homes during the recent monitoring period, which ran from June to September. Three of the 20 samples exceeded the lead action level of 15 parts per billion, causing an action level exceedance at the 90th percentile.

According to Brandy M. Smith, External Affairs Manager with the Northwest District Florida Department of Environmental Protection, this is the first time the Bonifay water system has exceeded the lead action level.

“The water system is required to provide the individual sample results to the specific residents where the 20 samples were collected,” said Smith. “Water systems are required to sample at the tap based on a materials survey which identifies where lead service lines are located and the types of plumbing material, rather than random or geographic site selection.”

“The relatively rare cases in which we encounter exceedances for lead are typically related to older pipes and fixtures within homes and facilities, not the water system itself,” she continued. “When an exceedance occurs, the department works with the water system to quickly and effectively address any problems, and to ensure the public is informed and protected. To be clear, these exceedances were not identified from samples collected at the point of entry from the facility itself.”

Following a lead action level exceedance, the water system is also required to inform all water system customers and provide educational information about lead in drinking water. The City also must sample each of the potable water well sources for lead and copper, and conduct water quality parameter (WQP) monitoring at the source and within the distribution system. WQPs aid in understanding whether the water is corrosive and, if so, what can be done to reduce the corrosivity since water that is less corrosive will be less likely to leach contaminants from the privately owned plumbing systems.

The City of Bonifay will now be required to perform more frequent residential tap sample monitoring at an increased number of sites. To return to compliance, the results must be below the action level at the 90th percentile for two consecutive six-month periods.

Meanwhile, the City offers the following advisements:

Steps to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water

Run your water to flush out lead. If water hasn’t been used in several hours, run water for 15-30 seconds [or insert a different flushing time if your system has representative data indicating a different flushing time would better reduce lead exposure in your community or facility and if the Department approves the wording] or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes.

Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.

Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.

Look for alternative sources or treatment of water. You may want to consider purchasing a water filter or bottled water. Read the package to be sure the filter is approved to reduce lead or contact NSF International at 800-NSF-MARK or www.nsf.org for information on performance standards for water filters. To help maximize water quality, be sure to maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Test your water for lead. If you think you may have elevated lead levels in your home drinking water, have it tested. Call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 for more information. Are there laboratories in your area that are certified to perform lead testing in drinking water? Yes, Contact the Water Spigot in Panama City, FL 32425 or Jace Asbury, Holmes County Health Department, (850) 547-8500.

Get your child’s blood tested. If you are concerned about exposure to lead, contact your local health department or health care provider to find out how you can get your child tested.

Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Brass faucets, fittings, and valves, including those advertised as “lead-free”, may contribute to lead in your drinking water. The law currently establishes the definition for “lead-free” as the weighted average of 0.25% lead calculated across the wetted surfaces of a pipe, pipe fitting, plumbing fitting, and fixture and 0.2% lead for solder and flux. Visit the NSF International website at www.nsf.org to learn more about lead-containing plumbing fixtures.

For More Information: Call the Bonifay Public Works Department at 850-547-2701 or City Hall at 850-547-4238. For more information on reducing lead exposure around your home/building and the health effects of lead, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website at www.epa.gov/lead, visit the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s lead in drinking water website at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/drinkingwater/monitor-pbcu-dw.htm, or contact your health care provider.

In other business during Monday's meeting, the council approved the purchase of new Christmas decorations at a cost of $6,266, to be paid out of the City's general fund. The decorations will include new lights, banners and a 10-ft tall Santa Claus.

Bonifay Fire Department also received a Florida Firefighter Assistance $13,800 grant to reimburse the City for what was paid in a match grant to purchase a new fire truck earlier this year.

Bonifay City Council will meet again in regular session at 6 p.m. on November 27.

Times-Advertiser Editor Carol Kent Wyatt contributed to this report.