BALDWIN, Fla. – Is Baldwin's water safe to drink?
Town residents started asking that question after they received a half-page notice in their latest monthly water bill alerting them that tests for major contaminants were missed in 2015.
Those residents called the I-TEAM looking for help, and we learned those contaminants could cause serious, even fatal, side effects are present in a water supply.
Baldwin Mayor Stan Totman assured the I-TEAM that the town's water is safe, but he admitted mistakes were made last year.
Residents who called the I-TEAM about the issue said they still aren't convinced their water supply is clean.
One of those residents was Gabrielle Lincoln, who carried an armful of water jugs into her kitchen in Baldwin last week to avoid using the water coming through her pipes.
“I don't even want to wash my dishes with it,” she said.
“This was enough to go, 'Eh, no, not even going to use it brushing my teeth,'” Lincoln added as she clutched a crumpled public notice titled “Important information about your drinking water.”
In bold, the notice reads “This is NOT an emergency.” But it also said, "Our water system did not meet the requirements of a drinking water rule."
And below that, Lincoln said she found some alarming language.
“I looked up some of these contaminants (listed) and these are not things you want to be ingesting,” Lincoln said. “You probably don't want them on your skin. One's radio-something, radioactive.”
The notice explained that during the 2015 monitoring period, Baldwin did not monitor or test for “inorganic contaminants, radionuclide contaminants, synthetic organic contaminants, volatile organic contaminants and secondary standards, and therefore cannot be sure of the quality of your drinking water at that time.”
“I was flabbergasted,” Lincoln said. “I couldn't believe it. I read it like three times because I wasn't even sure I was taking it in, that I truly understood that this is for 2015.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, in worst cases the contaminants listed on the notice can cause cancer, kidney, liver and other organ failures, and even death in infants.
“We have two schools. We have an elementary school down the street. There are pregnant women in this town. What's that going to do to their children?” Lincoln said.
Baldwin's water supply towers over the 1-square-mile small town, servicing more than 600 households and more than 1,300 people.
Totman.said the problem started last year when the person in charge of water testing fell ill for months.
“Actually we never had a problem with the water. We just missed a sample,” Totman said.
He said he had to reach out to other cities for help to find someone else to come monitor the water supply.
Totman insisted that as soon as the town leadership was made aware of the problem, they notified Baldwin's residents.
The I-TEAM checked with Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which provided a copy of a letter sent to Totman on Feb. 11 that says the state discovered Baldwin didn't submit completed testing by the end of 2015.
Testing is mandated every three years. Baldwin passed its water test in 2012.
The initial letter from the DEP also mandated that the public be informed. It provided a sample letter the town could send to its residents.
The town added in its recently sent notice that testing was underway and said the water supply had always tested negative for the contaminants in the past.
Missing from the notice was any explanation of what happened and why.
"Hindsight is always 20/20. We could have sent something that (was less alarming, but) this is our version of that (DEP sample letter),” Totman said.
He asserted that he is very confident Baldwin's water supply has always been safe.
But Lincoln was unsatisfied with those answers.
“Shame on you,” she said of her feelings toward Totman. “I truly believe that no matter where you live, you deserve the basic things, and a basic thing is clean water. We don't live in a Third World country. We shouldn't have to be even dealing with this at all.”
Totman said the town now has two certified water operators to make sure a lapse in management of the town's water system never happens again.