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Local man says dirty water left him deaf

NOCATEE, Fla. – A St. Johns County man says he's deaf in one ear and he blames it on dirty water.

Brendan Hoffman says reclaimed irrigation water got into his ear and caused an infection that wouldn't go away and now he's worried other people will get sick.

Hoffman lives in Nocatee and says that the community uses reclaimed water for irrigation. The JEA, which provides the water to the development, says the water is reclaimed from runoff or sewage, but the utility says it is highly treated and disinfected.

Hoffman says he was working on his sprinkler head when it popped off and reclaimed water came gushing out. He thinks that's what caused a nasty infection.

"I just turned my head and that whole stream of water just flat out hit me right in the ear," says Hoffman. "I started to get a little twitching in my ear and Monday morning the whole side of my right face was swollen, my ear was throbbing."

Hoffman went to the emergency room, his primary care doctor, an ear specialist and finally had surgery. 9 months later, Hoffman says he's deaf in his right ear and his doctors think it's the water that caused the problems.

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University of North Florida microbiologist Terri Ellis, Ph.D. says it's possible that the water was the cause of the problem.

"Yes, it is very plausible that something that was present in the water, something that was growing in the water, established itself in his ear and established an infection," says Ellis.

But Ellis says there's no need to panic. Usually people's immune systems fight off the bacteria but Hoffman seems to have gotten so much water in his ear that the bacteria had a head start.

Hoffman is worried about others getting infections from what he believes is dirty water so he's working with the law office of John M. Phillips to find out what happened.

"If it could happen to him, it could happen to anybody else. And we all know kids in the summertime, that's what they do, they play in the sprinklers," says T.C. Roberts, Hoffman's attorney.

Managers at Nocatee did not return News4Jax's call requesting comment.

JEA supplies the reclaimed water to the Nocatee community. Spokeswoman Gerri Boyce released a statement in response:

"Reclaimed water is highly treated domestic wastewater, which is an ideal irrigation water source that conserves precious Floridan aquifer water for drinking water purposes.

"Although reclaimed water is not appropriate for drinking, reclaimed water goes through a high level disinfection process that renders it safe for incidental contact.

"Florida is a leader in reuse safety with no documented reclaimed water-related illnesses since the state's use of reclaimed water began 40+ years ago. Decades of historical data demonstrate that reclaimed water is a safe and effective alternative water supply. (FDEP)

"JEA's reclaimed water is monitored continuously for quality and the reclaimed water distributed for irrigation meets the states stringent requirements for disinfection."