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Groundwater contamination: May 2015 Archives

Alarming Contamination in Los Angeles Groundwater

Co-authored by Gregory Zimmer of The Collins Law Firm, P.C. Recently, the Luskin Center at UCLA released a study that highlighted the dangers of Los Angeles County's water supply system. The results were staggering. Approximately 40% of community water providers in Los Angeles County drew water from a groundwater source that was contaminated beyond state-set drinking water standards--known as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs)--at one or more points during the span of 2002-2010.1  Areas serviced by such community water providers include but are not limited to: El Monte, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pomona, Santa Clarita, and Santa Monica. Some common contaminants are: Aluminum, Arsenic, Chloroform, Coliform (TCR), Manganese, Radon, and total trihalomethanes (TTHMs).2 Of every county in California, Los Angeles County has the greatest number of community water systems that rely on contaminated groundwater.1 Over a third of the water systems serving Los Angeles County rely entirely on groundwater. Such water systems are more common in small communities in the northern part of the county--an area troubled by local contamination and where there are few alternative sources for water. Small community water systems that serve fewer than 3,300 residents, the majority of which rely solely on groundwater, are found throughout the county--even in urban areas. Such water systems typically lack the technical, managerial, and financial capacity to overcome water treatment challenges and meet quality standards.1 Fortunately, most small systems draw from uncontaminated groundwater.3 However, most large community water systems serving the county partially rely on contaminated groundwater sources.1 While larger systems may have the resources to treat water, the costs to do so are projected to become a significant financial burden in the near future.1 Los Angeles' groundwater contamination problem has the potential to disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities, low-income households, and the very young and elderly. Disadvantaged communities are populations that have low levels of formal education and experience linguistic isolation, poverty, and high unemployment.4 Individuals from such communities are more susceptible to illness from contaminated water, and may be unable to access adequate medical care.4 Low-income households cannot afford to buy bottled water in the quantities necessary to substitute for their tap water. Children under the age of 10 and seniors older than 75 years of age are especially vulnerable to adverse health effects from exposure to contaminated drinking water.5 We believe you have the right to know what is in your drinking water, especially if the water content violates your own state's drinking water standard. Therefore:

Will Duke Energy Stop Committing Environmental Crimes?

On May 14, 2015, in a federal courtroom in Greenville, North Carolina, coal combusting giant Duke Energy pled guilty to committing 9 environmental crimes for its years of illegal discharge of coal ash pollution throughout the State of North Carolina.  Duke Energy will also pay some $102 million in fines and restitution.1 So, a big win for the environment, right?  Duke Energy will finally stop threatening the well-being of the people of North Carolina, right? Not so fast. Let's first examine what Duke Energy did to get charged with these crimes, and then see whether we think the punishment is going to cause Duke Energy to change its polluting ways. What Duke Energy Did As part of its guilty plea, Duke Energy agreed that it had engaged in certain misconduct.  Duke Energy's agreement is documented in a "Joint Factual Statement" (between Duke Energy and the federal government).2 This is just some of the misconduct that Duke Energy agreed it had committed:

"Scientific Study" or Paid Advertisement for Fracking?

In March 2015, Syracuse University hydrology professor, Donald Siegel, and a team of other scientists published a fracking study in Environmental Science and Technology, the bottom line of which is, basically, "fracking is safe". At least that's the way that the pro-fracking forces are selling it. Specifically, Professor Siegel and his colleagues concluded that drinking water wells in Pennsylvania had not been contaminated with methane from nearby fracking wells. And they went further. They stated that their study was more rigorous than other---anti-fracking---studies, and implied that their study should be trusted more than the anti-fracking studies. As Siegel bragged: "Our data set is hundreds of times larger than data sets used in prior studies"---which had connected fracking to well water methane contamination---and that "may explain the difference in prior findings compared to our own."1 Turns out that there is something else which "may explain the difference" between Siegel's study and the anti-fracking studies---like who was paying Siegel to do his study in the first place. Siegel and his colleagues initially declared on the face of their March 2015 study that they had "no competing financial interest"---i.e., meaning they had no financial interest which might be fairly viewed to influence how they did their study, or reached its conclusion.1 However, the following month, they revealed the truth. And the truth is that:

If You Don't Look for Water Contamination, You Won't Find It.

The LA Times and environmental advocacy group, Water Defense, recently combined to show what a sham so-called "environmental testing" can sometimes be, because it creates the illusion of protection for the people, when in truth there is very little, or maybe even none at all. In its May 2, 2015 story, The LA Times (and author Julie Cart) documented how, for two decades now, food crops in the Central Valley of California have been irrigated (sprayed) daily with millions of gallons of recycled water that had been used to help big oil companies try to discover crude oil.   In a nutshell, waste water from oil fields is being used to grow food that winds up on our plates. 1 The oil companies and consortium of crop-growers think it's a great deal.  The oil companies get paid (by the growers) to dispose of waste water that they otherwise would have had to pay a lot of money to get rid of.  The growers save lots of money; they get this "water" from the oil companies for about half of what they pay for water from other sources. But this "water" is being sprayed on our food. We should care not so much about whether this practice is healthy for the bottom lines of oil companies and corporate growers, but whether it is healthy for the people who eat the food. So the question is:  "Is this half-priced oil waste water safe to spray on the crops?" When you dig deep, as The LA times did, you find that the answer to this question is a resounding, "We have no idea." The story starts off sounding good.  Both the growers and oil companies will tell you (as they told The LA times) that this water is treated and "tested" before it's sprayed on the crops.  The growers will say that they test for pests and disease. Testing beyond that, they say, is up to the oil companies, For their part, the oil companies will say that they treat and test the water for whatever chemicals the government requires them to treat and test for. But is anyone testing specifically for the chemicals used by the oil companies in oil production?  Because we obviously also want to know if those chemicals are getting onto, or, worse, into, our food when it is growing out in the Central Valley fields. Sadly, it turns out that there is no testing for those chemicals.  Because the oil companies will not say what those chemicals are, no one tests to see if they are in the water sprayed on the crops.2 "You can't find what you don't look for", The LA times quoted one scientist to say. 1 And so here we see the sham:  the oil companies and growers create the illusion of safety and responsibility by claiming to do all "required" testing.....even while they know that the "required" testing is grossly inadequate, because it does not test for the presence of dangerous oil field chemicals. Until Water Defense's work, the oil companies and growers had been able to say that there is "no proof" that oil field chemicals are in the water used to spray the crops.  But now there is proof.  Over the last two years, and throughout an 8-mile long canal over which oil field waste water travels before being sprayed on the crops, Water Defense actually tested some of this water. And it found compounds that are toxic to humans, including acetone and methylene chloride--which are used as industrial solvents and to soften thick crude oil--as well as oil.  Methylene chloride is a potential human carcinogen. Not surprisingly, the growers and at least one oil company are crying foul over Water Defense's work.  They say that Water Defense's testing method was improper; the oil company says that it doesn't use acetone and methylene chloride in its processes.  Good luck to them: Scott Smith, Water Defense's chief scientist, has a resume that says he knows what he's doing.  He's consulted for EPA and other government agencies on more than 50 oil spills, and spent two years studying the oil waste water used in the Central Valley. Hopefully, very soon, the sham will end.  Hopefully, testing of oil field waste water sprayed on crops will very soon include testing for dangerous oil field chemicals.  And then, hopefully, the people who eat the food sprayed with oil field chemicals can finally know what they have really been eating all these years, and decide whether they want to keep doing it. 1 LA Times - "Central Valley's Growing Concern: Crops Raise With Oil Field Water" (May 2, 2015) 2 In California, a new law will require such disclosure soon; but, for the last 20 years, these chemicals have remained a secret. As a result, those who for 20 years have eaten Central Valley food sprayed with oil field waste water may have also been consuming undisclosed oil field chemicals, because no test revealed whether the chemicals were in the food.

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