The Palm Coast Utility Department is replacing nearly 1,500 backflow prevention devices from houses across Palm Coast after discovering many of the devices installed in recent years do not meet updated state and federal requirements.
About 90 percent of the devices have been removed so far, and Palm Coast Utility expected to have them all removed by mid-week. The city anticipates delivery of replacement backflow prevention devices this week.
“I want to assure Palm Coast Utility customers the water is perfectly safe to drink and has been safe all along — even at the houses where the wrong device was installed,” said Utility Director Richard Adams.
“We apologize for this mistake,” Adams said. “We are committed to replacing these devices at affected residences right away and have already changed our procedures to ensure this will never happen again.”
At issue is the amount of lead content in the brass components of the devices. Prior to 2014, brass components used in any part of the water system were allowed to contain up to 8 percent lead. The regulations were updated in 2014 to limit the allowable amount to 0.25 percent.
The city has been ordering the correct backflow prevention devices since 2014, and many of those installed have been the right ones. But in late March, a Utility technician discovered the devices he’d received for a new installation did not meet the updated regulations.
Utility managers immediately compared model numbers to a master list kept for maintenance purposes and found some 1,456 of the incorrect devices had been installed, mostly between December 2017 and March of this year. An investigation revealed the manufacturer, Zurn Wilkins, had shipped the wrong devices to Palm Coast. The manufacturer blamed the issue on a clerical error on their end and is working closely with the City to change out the devices.
Palm Coast Utility crews and a contractor have been working seven days a week to remove the problem devices since the issue was found. As soon as the replacement backflow prevention devices arrive this week, technicians will shift to installing the new ones at affected homes. Because the devices have to be installed by a certified backflow prevention device technician and tested before use, the replacement process will take several weeks to complete.
The mistake was reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and DEP staff members are partnering with the City in its replacement program. Palm Coast’s water is tested regularly and meets all requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida DEP (including for lead content).
Residents at affected houses were notified on April 8 by hand-delivered letter.
The vast majority of backflow prevention devices at Palm Coast residences were installed prior to 2014 and have the 8% lead content in the brass components. But even still, they do not pose a threat. Since the early 1990s, Palm Coast Utility has added a corrosion inhibitor to the water to ensure lead does not leach from older brass faucets and fixtures into the water supply. Additionally, the Palm Coast utility system does not have any lead pipes.
Still, to be doubly sure, the Utility always does its required testing for lead and copper in tap water at Palm Coast homes built between 1983 and 1988. The EPA requires those homes because they have the highest chance of having brass faucets, fixtures and water system components with the higher lead content. Testing shows there are trace contents of lead – but far below the allowable level. The next scheduled testing for lead is this coming June.
The City of Palm Coast has added backflow prevention devices any time it added a new water meter – or did a retrofit – since it bought the Utility in 2003. Not all houses have them, but they are being retrofitted at homes that have an alternate water source on the property, such as a well or reclaimed water line. Backflow prevention devices are a one-way check valve to ensure drinking water can flow only into a home – not back into the water system from the home because of a water main break or other emergency creating negative pressure in the system.
The following information is included in the City’s annual Water Quality Report and provides additional information for anyone concerned about lead in their water: If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/lead.
The annual Water Quality Reports dating back to 2003, when the City purchased the Utility, are available on the City website at www.palmcoastgov.com/government/utility/water-quality. Residents who have questions about the backflow prevention devices should call Palm Coast Customer Service at 386-986-2360.