For nearly 30 years, residents of the Wedgefield community in east Orange County have thought there was something off about the water. It didn’t taste right, and many thought there could have been something seriously wrong.
For much of the time, their complaints went unheard, until recently when their County Commissioner, District 5’s Ted Edwards, finally had some testing done from the county’s Department of Environmental Protection Division.
They did 18 tests within the last two weeks, and only two have come back so far. The result? Alarmingly high levels of Trihalomethane (THM), which forms as a byproduct of putting chlorine in the water. A normal level is 80 THMs, but the two houses evaluated so far have had 132 and 160 respectively.
The company that services Wedgefield, Pluris Water, was reportedly not happy with the tests, feeling they didn’t meet compliance standards — so they’re doing new tests which will be sent to two separate labs and evaluated further.
Pluris Water declined to comment.
Edwards said he didn’t receive any complaints personally until he attended at Homeowners’ Association meeting this year and heard residents complaining. Then he took action and had the tests done. He told Orlando Rising that he would work to implement further testing in the future to ensure good water quality.
“We’re going to go through the protocol of doing quarterly tests,” he said. “We want to make sure there are meters where the water comes into the house, so we can find out if the problem is with their houses or with the water system.”
But he isn’t fussing about it as much as the residents in the area are.
“It’s just a few residents complaining about the water,” he said. “We’re baffled by the whole thing. We’re trying to determine if they have legitimate concerns.”
If it’s determined that the concerns are legitimate, Edwards said they would have to go through the Florida Public Service Commission, which has jurisdiction in the matter of water quality.
One of Edwards’ challengers for the District 5 County Commission seat, local environmental activist Emily Bonilla, said if she was elected commissioner, she wouldn’t allow complaints about potentially bad water to go unnoticed.
In a news release issued on Tuesday, Bonilla noted that high doses of THM could cause cancer over long periods of time.
“The big problem is privatized utilities,” she told Orlando Rising. “Utilities are a big issue, and necessary to live. Pluris has a monopoly there, in just that one small area.”
Two of Edwards’ other opponents in the District 5 county race, Tim McKinney, and Greg Eisenberg have also raised issues with Edwards’ seeming neglect of Wedgefield and other east Orange County areas facing public water-related issues.
One resident of Wedgefield, Evelyn Perez, said she and several people she knows have experienced corroding sink faucets and refrigerators and bad smells which they believe to be the result of the THM in the water. She spoke of a Facebook group entitled “Pluris Water Sucks,” based in Hillsborough County, which has allowed residents of Wedgefield to voice their own concerns and seek answers.
She spoke of one instance in which a Department of Environmental Protection member came to Wedgefield in the past to test the water.
“They came out with a Styrofoam cup from a local gas station,” she alleged. “They took one cup of water and said it looks good and smells good, so it’s OK.”
Perez said she isn’t sold on Edwards’ interest in Wedgefield now, either, though.
“People were complaining back in the ’80s,” she said. “And now, they’re listening because this is an election year. We need something done, so they gave us some testing now. Where were you so many years ago?”