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Guest Comment: County continues to work on arsenic mitigation plan

March 28, 2018
By Dave Harner , Pine Island Eagle

The Pine Island Eagle's March 14 edition featured a letter to the editor titled "Arsenic on Pine Island?" that implied that Lee County staff and elected officials were not properly addressing the situation at the Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve, and that we were not being transparent and honest with the public.

In fact, there is no such cover up occurring. The county has and continues to work with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to identify the source of arsenic and assemble an acceptable mitigation plan.

Prior to Lee County's purchase of the property - which lies about five miles south of the island's four-way stop sign - Lee County Utilities (LCU) had an agreement with the property owner for a reuse water spray field. It also was being used for cattle grazing. In 2005, the county bought the property for a Conservation 20/20 preserve.

Utilities are required to have reuse water monitoring plans. In 2010, LCU started identifying increases in total coliform that were not representative of the reuse water. In 2012, LCU started working with the DEP to identify the cause of the total coliform level, and, as a result, DEP agreed LCU would change the monitoring well location.

LCU testing also had shown some arsenic levels in 2012, but the data didn't rise to the level at which it triggered concern from DEP. Arsenic is a natural metalloid that occurs in soils in Florida and is found in manmade sources, many of which are now banned or regulated. Since 2012, LCU has not had a spike in arsenic levels in effluent. Also, LCU has not used the Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve property as a spray field since January 2017.

In the process of reviewing Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve's management plan (2015-16), a community member came to the county and said he had concerns about past LCU data from the site. Lee County decided to install three monitoring wells to examine whether arsenic levels were consistent with prior information. Preliminary data collected in February 2017 showed that the levels were similar to the past.

Of the county's three current monitoring wells at the spray field site, two have not tested above drinking-water standards for state and federal regulations. Although drinking-water is the standard, it should be noted that no water from this site is used for human consumption. One sole well continues to show higher arsenic levels, and it's the well adjacent to the original LCU site that also showed elevated arsenic levels.

The county self-reported this to DEP and collaboratively we have come up with next steps. The county is installing three additional monitoring wells in the area so as to gather more information. The preserve land that is the subject of this recent attention is not part of the preserve's recreational area.

The process to determine a source of arsenic is methodical and takes time. Once the county determines the size of the plume, it will work with DEP to mitigate the situation. The county is committed to monitoring all of the wells quarterly for at least the next two years.

Dave Harner is Assistant Lee County Manager.



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