Monday, May 7, 2007
7 News Investigations: What's in the water?
From contaminated spinach to problems with peanut butter, it's no wonder we're concerned about the safety of our food. And now some folks here in South Florida have questions about bottled water. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with this special assignment report, "What's in the Water?"
WSVN -- Bottled water is big business. When we buy it, we expect it to be crystal clear.
So imagine finding this floating inside a gallon jug of water and imagine it appearing after you already drank half the container.
Dennis Crosby: "It had black dots floating throughout the whole bottle."
Retired New York firefighter Dennis Crosby says he bought four gallons of bottled water.
He used two jugs and was midway through the third when he saw black stuff floating around in the container.
Dennis Crosby: "The dots got larger."
And, as the material grew, so did his concern.
Dennis Crosby: "I had severe lower stomach cramps."
Crosby couldn't get anyone to test the water, so he turned to 7 News.
We brought it to Kappa Labs for testing; it turns out the black stuff is mold.
Dr. Peter Kmieck: "The tests have shown that indeed this is mold, and it's a shocking finding that this should be found in drinking water."
The mold is penicillium and Dr. Pete Kmieck says it can produce the antibiotic drug penicillin.
Dr. Peter Kmieck: "Well, the bad thing is certain people may be very sensitive to penicillin and suffer a reaction and not know its coming from the water source."
So we did a second test on our water to see if there was any penicillin in it. The good thing? There wasn't.
Still, Dr. Kmieck says the contamination should have been taken seriously and his report indicates the water was, "not fit for human consumption."
Dr. Peter Kmieck: "I think it's unacceptable. At a time when our food and water supplies are at risk from accidental or intentional contamination, how this incident was handled raises questions about how Florida tracks potential problems, and it starts with where to complain."
Dennis Crosby did what most of us would have done -- he contacted the Health Department.
Dennis Crosby: "I contacted the Broward Board of Health. It said it's not their responsibility."
The Health Department is supposed to send Crosby's complaint to the Department of Agriculture, which it says it did do.
Yet the Agriculture Department has no copy of any Broward County complaints.
And it did not know Dennis had a bottle of water that could be tested.
Carmel Cafiero: "Did the state test this water?"
Dr. John Fruin: "No, the state did not test this particular water."
Dr. John Fruin is Florida's Food Safety Chief.
He says the contaminated water had been removed from store shelves before state inspectors arrived, so there was nothing to test.
And, he says, the store did its own testing, but it was months after the first contaminated water first showed up. The problem? A contaminated filter.
Carmel Cafiero: "Shouldn't they tell the state what they did with the contaminated water?"
Dr. John Fruin: "Well, they would have thrown it away."
But there were other people complaining besides Dennis, and their complaints did reach the state.
In November, there were reports of contamination from Lake City and Fern Park.
And in January, complaints were still coming in. This time from Williston and Panama City.
Despite that, the state did no testing at all to identify the disgusting black stuff found floating in people's drinking water.
Dr. John Fruin: "This is not a food safety issue. This is a consumer acceptance issue."
The state insists penicillium in drinking water is nothing to worry about.
Dr. John Fruin: "It's an appearance point. This type of a little bit of stuff is not a food safety issue."
And the state says it had no reports of anyone getting sick.
But both complaints filed with the Broward Health Department, including Crosby's, report nausea, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
Remember, the state claims it never got a report that said that anyone had gotten sick.
Carmel Cafiero: "Dennis..."
At least now Dennis Crosby can stop wondering "What's in the Water."
Carmel Cafiero: "Do you think this is something the Health Department or the state should have been telling you instead of Channel 7?"
Dennis Crosby: "Absolutely, they never showed up."
Carmel Cafiero: "The question we can't answer: If a system can't even accurately track complaints, can it really protect us at a time when contaminated products are showing up with alarming frequency?"