City of West Palm Beach: Blue-Green Algae

West Palm Beach, FL
U.S. Water Services Corporation - West Palm Beach - Supplemental Staffing

In July of 2017, U.S. Water Services Corporation (U.S. Water) entered into a three-year contract with two additional one-year renewals with the City of West Palm Beach to provide supplemental labor to the City’s utilities department. These services include water and wastewater treatment facility operators, Project Managers, Utility Mechanics, and Electricians. When the City of West Palm Beach asked U.S. Water to provide supplemental staffing services to assist city personnel in an investigation relating to the cause of elevated levels of a toxin produced by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, in July, we had operators ready to go.

After Cylindrospermopsin was detected in the drinking water from West Palm Beach’s water treatment facility on May 20th, the City needed to find the problem fast! Cylindrospermopsin, a toxin produced by cyanobacteria, was detected in the drinking water from the City of West Palm Beach’s water treatment facility on May 20, 2021. Elevated levels of toxins have been detected in the raw water samples collected from the East Lobe of Clear Lake and the finished water at the treatment facility that supplies water to the City of West Palm Beach, Town of Palm Beach, and Town of South Palm Beach.

The initial request for staffing services consisted of a team comprised of three FDEP Certified Drinking Water Operators. The request required specific licenses levels consisting of one Class “A” operator, filled by Dustin Williams, and two Class “C” operators, filled by James Peters and Charlotte Worsfold. The operations team was to be assigned to the project full-time for a period of four weeks.

The City of West Palm Beach worked closely with the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and along with the City’s Emergency Operations Center to address the situation and quickly reduce cylindrospermopsin levels in the tap water. To tackle this issue, the City activated its emergency wells to introduce groundwater into the surface water supply, added powdered activated carbon into the treatment system at the water treatment facility, increased free chlorine levels within the final stages of the treatment process, and initiated a switch to a stronger disinfectant that was identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce levels of the toxins.

During the project period, the U.S. Water operations team was tasked with mining all data relevant to dates where cyanotoxin samples were pulled and cylindrospermopsin was found in elevated levels. Those findings were incorporated into spreadsheets that could then be graphed and used to identify trends. Other tasks consisted of collecting samples throughout the facility daily at varying time intervals and at various stages. This was done to help determine how different areas of the treatment process affected the toxin. The team ran multiple jar tests manipulating chemical dosages, mixing speeds, contact times, and detention times to record its effects on the toxin. They also pulled CORE samples from the plans GAC filters to determine absorption efficiency.

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