“When I started 16 years ago, they always warned us not to use the water, so they always supplied us with bottled water,” says Ellen Kennedy, a Port Everglades spokesperson who also works in one of the buildings with elevated lead levels. “I brush my teeth here sometimes... but I understand you have to drink a significant quantity [for it to effect your health].”
The three sites that tested positive were the Public Works Building’s break room and the Administration Building on the third and fifth floors. Kennedy estimates that the lead results effect 215 Port Everglades employees. The good news is that the Port’s tenants, cruise ships, and shops at the convention center and shopping plaza are still safe to drink.
In a memo to commissioners, Port director Steve Cernak said: “Our ability to provide water to cruise ships and other ships in the port is unaffected, since we are continuing to follow procedures established in 2009 to flush the service lines prior to ship hookup... We are working with the City of Fort Lauderdale and the Broward County Health Department, with the assistance of the Broward County Public Works Department, to ensure that our actions are in conformance not only with national standards and requirements, but also consistent with industry’s best practices.”
Regardless, the news about lead in the drinking has rattled Kim Goodman, who runs Mommycise, the gym for pregnant women, mothers, and their babies and toddlers that is connected to the Port’s water supply. She said in a message to New Times: “Wow that is super scary! Thankfully we don't consume the water at the studio. We only have bottled water. It's definitely very concerning, I’m going to warn the parents that do not know just to make sure they are aware.”
Lead is especially dangerous to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Scientists have found that lead can cause a lower IQ in children and that pregnant women can store lead in their bones, which may effect babies' brain development. In adults, lead exposure can cause brain and kidney damage; it affects people with kidney problems and high blood pressure the most. Since lead is stored in the bones, its effects might not be noticeable until the metals seep out later in life.
This isn’t the first time the Port Everglades drinking supply has tested positive for elevated lead. Back in 2009, seven buildings hooked up to the Port Everglades water supply tested above the federal government’s drinking water lead guideline, which is more than 0.015 parts per million (ppm). The Port took corrective action, and lead levels were consistently low during annual testing between June 2011 to June 2013. Testing frequency was then lowered to once every three years. The test conducted on August 1, the first since 2013, showed higher levels in the three buildings.
The Public Works Building had only 0.003 ppm more than was federally allowed, but the Administration Building’s fifth floor had more than three times (0.0565 ppm) the federally permitted amount of lead (0.015 ppm). Its third floor had nearly five times the amount of lead permitted (0.0761 ppm).
The Port receives its water from the City of Fort Lauderdale (which doesn’t contain lead). But the Port’s pipes and service lines do, so when the water comes into contact with that for several hours, it contaminates the drinking water.
Port Everglades is hiring a nationally recognized water consultant to make recommendations on how to lower lead in the drinking water. That consultant will work with the Broward County health department. In the meantime, the Port is replacing old plumbing fixtures like faucets and water fountains and advising people to run the water for 15 to 30 seconds before use.
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.