The Risks Associated Public Water

Exposed To Carcinogens

In 2013 and 2014, the City of Sacramento tested a new chemical at its main water treatment plant, and an ABC10 investigation found the substances that formed in the city’s drinking water system as a result, could cause cancer.

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Contains Microorganisms

Water can be contaminated in several ways. It can contain microorganisms like bacteria and parasites that get in the water from human or animal fecal matter.

Contains Chemicals

It can contain chemicals from industrial waste or from spraying crops. Nitrates used in fertilizers can enter the water with runoff from the land. Various minerals such as lead or mercury can enter the water supply, sometimes from natural deposits underground, or more often from improper disposal.

Cryptosporidium Pathogen

Cryptosporidium is a pathogen that sometimes gets into water supplies. It can cause a gastrointestinal disease that could be fatal.

Sacramento Residents Exposed To Carcinogen In Their Drinking Water

In 2013 and 2014, the City of Sacramento tested a new chemical at its main water treatment plant, and an ABC10 investigation found the substances that formed in the city’s drinking water system as a result, could cause cancer.

Testing of the chemical called aluminum chlorohydrate, or ACH, almost immediately sent up warning signs that something was seriously wrong, and even though those red flags continued for an entire year, the city didn’t stop and didn’t warn people about a hazard.

The byproducts Sacramento residents were exposed to are called disinfection byproducts, or DBPs. DBPs are considered likely carcinogens. Studies have also linked the byproducts to low birth weight and even miscarriages.

City officials allowed the testing to continue, despite early warnings the new chemical being tested was creating DBPs at levels that the Environmental Protection Agency says could be unsafe, especially with long term use.

It started as a short-term test of ACH to replace another water treatment chemical called ALUM.

Sacramento’s Utility Director, Bill Busath told ABC10 the test was all about one thing, “There was an expectation that we would be able to save quite a bit of money.”

“”Its deceptive, its mismanagement. You lied. You lied.””

Coagulants like ACH and ALUM are important. They take river water and bond with impurities after they enter a treatment plant. The chemical weighs down the silt and other impurities, so they fall to the bottom of giant pools. The sediment is then swept away.

Now, Sacramento officials acknowledge there was a serious flaw with their chemical test. In a report the city filed with state regulators, the city admits the test caused DBP numbers to rise to “historically high levels when using (ACH) aluminum chlorohydrate.”

To make up for the chemical’s lack of effectiveness, the city pumped in more chlorine. But, when chlorine and these organic compounds spend too much time together, the chlorine can turn into disinfection byproducts, or DBPs, in your drinking water.

“She wrote in an email to managers, “I’m nervous about the distribution samples.””

Busath said, “As soon as the levels got to where we thought that we wouldn’t be in compliance, and hence wouldn’t be protective of public health, we stopped the trial.”

The city did eventually stop testing in May of 2014, but that was after the chemical trials went on for an entire year. During that year, according to internal tests the city was performing, reading after reading went above what the EPA considers safe for long-term exposure to DBPs.

A man who grew up working in the water treatment industry, Bob Bowcock, said what the city did endangered the health of citizens. “This community was basically looked at as a laboratory guinea pig, in that they were exposed to violation level trihalomethanes for up to one year without any proper notification whatsoever,” Bowcock said. Trihalomathane is one type of DBP. They’re often referred to THMs.

Bowcock managed water treatment plants in southern California for decades. Today he works as an adviser to Erin Brokovich, made famous by the movie about her fight against chemically-tainted water in Hinkley, California.

Pregnant women and unborn babies, Bowcock said, are especially vulnerable to DBPs. “In first trimester pregnancies, there’s a significant rise in miscarriages, and in third trimester there’s evidence of low birth weight,” he said, describing how the DBP-tainted water is even more dangerous when its mists are breathed in while showering or washing dishes.

Sacramento isn’t the only city that has had problems with DBPs. Flint, Michigan had a problem earlier this year. But unlike Sacramento, health warnings went out to Flint residents. The elderly, the very young and pregnant women were told they might want to consider filtered or bottled water. Churches even gave away safe water to the poor.

People in Sacramento were never notified about the dangers, never given that choice to opt for bottled water, even though the city had all kinds of data showing they had a serious problem.

The troubling data came fast. A city chemist noticed the problem on the third day of the testing. She wrote in an email to managers, “I’m nervous about the distribution samples.” A chart that went along with that email showed DBPs well above EPA limits.

“I think the testing should have stopped immediately,” Bowcock said. “I think they should have called the Division of Drinking Water.”

Sacramento officials didn’t call that state agency or stop the test. Instead, they expanded it, telling the city council they needed enough money allocated, $850,000, to buy a truckload of ACH every week for a year for more testing.

In July of 2013, Busath and other utility officials told the city council in a staff report the State of California “has now mandated that the trial be extended from three weeks to a full year.”

Source:  Thom Jensen, Joe Rubin, ABC10 SacramentoPublished 11:13 a.m. PT Nov. 6, 2015 | Updated 11:14 a.m. PT Nov. 6, 2015

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