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Too many California towns have arsenic in tap water, group says

Isabel Solorio shows a glass of cloudy water that smells worse than it looks in the Lanare community center in 2013. Lanare is a Fresno County town of 500 where many people don't drink the arsenic-tainted water coming out of the tap.
Isabel Solorio shows a glass of cloudy water that smells worse than it looks in the Lanare community center in 2013. Lanare is a Fresno County town of 500 where many people don't drink the arsenic-tainted water coming out of the tap. Fresno Bee file

An environmental group said Monday that 55,000 people statewide are at risk of drinking tap water contaminated with arsenic, and many of the communities are poor, mostly Latino towns in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Environmental Integrity Project based in Washington, D.C., said required warnings to water customers fail to explain the dangers from arsenic exposure and need to be strengthened.

A total of 95 water systems have average arsenic levels of more than 10 parts per billion, which is above the federal maximum contaminant level, the group said in its report. Arsenic is a cancer-causing chemical linked to other health problems

She’s really scared of it.

Maricela Mares-Alatorre, Kettleman City resident

The Kings County community of Kettleman City, population 1,450, had arsenic levels from groundwater wells averaging 11.4 parts per billion in 2014-15, based on state data.

Resident Maricela Mares-Alatorre said her 8-year-old daughter brushes her teeth with tap water, but is careful to rinse and not swallow.

“She’s really scared of it,” Mares-Alatorre said.

To help Kettleman City, the state is paying for a $9.6 million treatment plant to purify water from the California Aqueduct. Construction is to begin in April.

Meanwhile, residents can get free bottled water for drinking and cooking.

In a statement, the State Water Resources Control Board responded to the group’s complaint that warnings to water customers are inadequate.

95Number of communities in California with too-high level of arsenic in tap water, as reported by the Environmental Intergity Project

“Arsenic is categorized as a chronic contaminant that poses possible health risks after long-term exposure – 70-plus years of drinking two liters of arsenic-contaminated water a day,” a statement said. “There are no known acute/immediate health effects that would cause consumers to immediately stop drinking the water.”

The state said it follows U.S. Environmental Protection Agency language which states, “There is nothing you need to do. You do not need to boil your water or take other corrective actions.”

The state said it is working with affected water systems on building new wells, blending supplies or building treatment facilities.

I drink the regular water.

Randy Masters, Pixley resident

Pixley Public Utilities District serves about 3,300 people and had average arsenic levels of 14.4 parts per billion in 2014-15.

Pixley water system operator Randy Masters said the federal government lowered the level from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion, but he is not worried.

“I drink the regular water,” said Masters, a Pixley resident.

The district is seeking state grants to drill two news wells at $1 million each, he said.

Also on the group’s list is Shaver Lake Point #2 water system, which serves about 90 vacation homes.

Homeowners board president Bob Johnson said the water system plans to install a treatment facility costing $150,000 to filter out the arsenic, and is seeking state approval.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

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