Tap water safe again in Baldwin Park, La Puente areas following contamination
San Gabriel Valley Water Company customers in the Baldwin Park and La Puente areas were left without drinking water for more than a day after a failure at a groundwater treatment facility earlier contaminated the system with perchlorate, used in making Rocket Fuel.
Customers were advised Saturday it was safe again to drink their tap water after the system had been flushed of the toxic chemical.
President Bob Nicholson said Saturday morning.
“We got the sample results back indicating the water is clean,” he said.
The contamination was discovered Thursday afternoon during weekly testing. Nicholson said the high perchlorate levels could have been in the water for days before it was discovered.
On Friday officials, under the guidance of the state and county health departments, distributed notices door-to-door notifying affected residents not to drink or cook with tap water until further notice.
“San Gabriel Valley Water Company’s water system in and around Baldwin Park and La Puente has high levels of perchlorate,” the utility said in a public notice.
“Boiling, freezing, filtering or letting water stand does not reduce the perchlorate level,” the water company’s public alert said.
Excessive boiling can even cause the perchlorate levels to become more concentrated.
Still, the water company said the temporary consumption of the perchlorate did not pose any health risks.
Perchlorate is an inorganic chemical commonly used to make rocket fuel, fireworks, explosives, and similar items. It has been shown to block the release of thyroid gland hormones critical for growth and brain development, making it particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children.
Before those dangers were known, the aerospace and defense industries, which once dominated the San Gabriel Valley, freely dumped spent chemicals including perchlorate directly into the ground. They made their way into the groundwater basin that lies below, contributing to the Valley being declared one of the largest Superfund sites in the country.
For decades, local, state and federal agencies and the private sector have worked to remove the perchlorate from the groundwater, establishing treatment facilities throughout the region.
It was a problem at one of those facilities, at Francisquito Avenue and the 10 Freeway in Baldwin Park, that caused the recent contamination.
Utility workers immediately shut down the water supply from the affected well – one of 35 in the utility’s system – however the remnants of perchlorate contamination had to be flushed out of the system before the water could be declared safe, Nicholson said.
Water was being re-directed from other wells within the system as officials continued making repairs to the malfunctioning groundwater treatment facility, he added.
San Gabriel Water Company officials were preparing to distribute bottled water Saturday in case of an unforeseen increase in the length of the service disruption, Nicholson said, however the problem was resolved before that became necessary.
According to the utility, the “temporary consumption” of perchlorate at the levels detected in the system did not pose a health risk to people or pets.
California law requires that perchlorate levels be below 6 parts per billion. The highest level measured Thursday by the San Gabriel Valley Water Company was 8.8 parts per billion, according to Frank Loguidice, the company’s vice president of engineering and operations.
Last year the Obama Administration announced it would set the first ever federal limit on perchlorate. What that limit will be is still in the works. In 2002, an EPA draft risk assessment found that 1 part per billion should be considered safe. Six years later, the Bush administration decided not to regulate the chemical, instead recommending that concentrations not exceed 15 parts per billion.
Bob Kuhn, a board member of the San Gabriel Valley Water Quality Authority, which oversees perchlorate cleanup in the valley, applauded the San Gabriel Valley Water Company’s swift action.
“I’m happy they were on top of it, they caught it, they notified people and they didn’t try to hide,” he said. “And I’m happy they got it cleaned up right away.”
By Brian Day and Rebecca Kimitch, SGVN