Tuesday, October 2, 2012

California Community Pestered by Pesticide-Tainted Water

By: Duane Craig

Every residential property in Livingston, Calif. that relies on water from city-owned wells can now expect 1,2,3-trichloropropane to be present to some degree in that water, according to an article in the Merced Sun-Star. Livingston’s water supplies have also had problems with elevated levels of arsenic and manganese.

Some local officials appear to be hoping the community accepts the long-term contamination prospects as well as they have. One councilman played down the threat saying it wasn’t serious and that levels of 1,2,3-trichloropropane fluctuate. He said he continues to use the city’s water and also gives it to his children. Another official pointed out the chemical, related to agriculture, had been widely used in the area and had prompted other communities to sue companies that produced and used it.

Livingston itself sued and received a $9 million settlement from companies that participated in the contamination, and local officials say the money is being used to clean up the problem. One approach under development is a specially-designed filter that will remove the chemical. The first of its kind is expected to be completed in fall of 2012.

Livingston is one of many communities across California dealing with the chemical. Its shortened name is 1,2,3-TCP and it was originally found at a Superfund site in the southern part of the state, according to information at the California Department of Health. At about the same time it was found in several wells across the state and in 2009 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported its link to cancer in studies involving laboratory animals. The chemical was used to remove paint and varnish, to clean and degrease materials, as a cleaner during maintenance activities and as an intermediate chemical. It is a byproduct in the manufacture of pesticides based on dichloropropenes, and is used to make soil fumigants.

Land throughout the area near Livingston is heavily used for agricultural purposes leading many to think that its problem is related to pesticide use. Livingston is in Merced County and that county has 25 instances of 1,2,3-TCP being detected in water sources, but the number of detections is on the low side compared to other places in California. For example, Kern County has 108 detections, followed by Los Angeles with 46. Altogether California has 336 sources of water where 1,2,3-TCP has been detected. Still, that might be an optimistic measurement of the potential problem since it doesn’t include 36 inactive, abandoned or destroyed water sources, and doesn’t include agricultural water sources and monitoring wells.

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