'Forever Chemicals' found in some of our water still poses risks for almost 1 million Californian

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

Jordan Hunter | In Partnership with California Black Media

Last summer, the city of Santa Monica released its Annual Drinking Water Quality Report for 2019. The findings in it were presented by Sunny Wang, who heads the city’s water resource division. The division aims to “continue its mission of providing sustainable, clean, and healthy drinking water to its residents now and into the future,” he said. Santa Monica will stay ahead of the curve in fulfilling that mission, Wang assured residents. “We also are implementing new cutting-edge technology to improve the water quality as well as restore some of our groundwater sources,” Wang said. “We have some of the most advanced water treatment technologies that’s available in the water industry currently at our water treatment plant.” Like Santa Monica’s water supply, most of the drinking water in California is safe – not by default, but because water authorities and other institutions that support them around the state actively and constantly take steps to keep it that way. But the possibility of contamination is always a real and ongoing threat for all of them. According to The San Jose Mercury News, about 1 million California residents still do not have access to safe drinking water. Wang pointed to past local groundwater contamination by industrial activities in Santa Monica that led to the upgrade of the city’s water treatment plant, which was a part of the Charnock Well Field Restoration Project in 2010. Granular activated carbon and reverse osmosis treatment systems were implemented to remove of MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl) and TBA (tertiary-butyl alcohol) from the contaminated groundwater supply. Regarding ongoing developments in drinking water, Wang highlighted the presence of “forever chemicals” in drinking water throughout the state and the country. These chemicals, known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) are common compounds in the repellency of water, grease and soil in consumer products. However, if exposed to humans, these substances are not readily eliminated by the body. According to the State Water Resources Control Board, long-term exposure to PFAS “can cause harmful health effects to a developing fetus or infant; to the immune system, thyroid, and liver; and can lead to cancer.” “PFAS is very hard to remove to the low levels required if it is found in your water supply,” Wang explained. “We proactively went out and sampled and monitored for that to see if it is in our water supply. Fortunately, it is not present in our local groundwater supply.” While there is no immediate concern in Santa Monica regarding PFAS, nearby Orange County has seen contamination in groundwater, resulting in 42 of the 195 wells in the county requiring closure in just the past year. Eleven water agencies in the county are affected by the contaminant. According to the Orange County Register, nine of the agencies are considering legal action to recoup the $1 billion in purification costs in local wells. “It’s hard to degrade (in the natural environment). It’s a very stable (chemical) compound. So to remove it, there’s two or three different technologies out there right now that can remove that and it’s very expensive, so it becomes a cost issue as well for rate payers,” Wang said. In January, the city adopted its five-year rates that went into effect in March. Wang emphasized the affordability of tap water in the city compared to bottled water or water refill stations that are placed outside of grocery stores. Even with the proposed water rate increase, Santa Monica is still significantly lower than Beverly Hills costs by 25 % and 50 % lower than Culver City and the City of Los Angeles. In Santa Monica, everyone in the city has access to safe, clean drinking water. They also offer a low-income subsidy. If the payer qualifies through utility companies SoCal or Edison’s low-income assistance programs, they are eligible for a reduction on water rates. COVID-19 has affected seemingly every industry and water resources is no exception. The division, in support of a study led by USC and its Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, collected wastewater samples to find any early warning systems or indicators of future spikes in infection rates. “We are participating in that type of research right now. They’re looking for clues in this area and we’re just supporting them,” Wang said. “That’s how we stay relevant and current and stay ahead of the industry by participating in these research efforts.” About the Author

Jordan Hunter

Jordan Hunter is a freelance writer and graduate (Cum laude) of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. He lives in Santa Monica. The information Hunter shares in this article is brought to you in partnership with the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), a non-profit statewide association of public water agencies whose more than 450 members are responsible for about 90 % of the water deliveries in California.


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