All Livingston wells contaminated

Officials say water still safe; city expecting filter soon

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 18, 2012 

LIVINGSTON -- Water contamination difficulties are proving to be a widespread problem in Livingston.

A memorandum sent from a consultant to City Engineer Nanda Gottiparthy last week notes that 1,2,3-trichloropropane, a highly toxic chemical that's made its way into Livingston's drinking water supply, has been detected in every city well.

The contaminant can pose a serious threat to public health and is mainly concentrated in well No. 8.

Often used in the production of pesticides, TCP is a man-made chemical that can cause cancer, kidney failure and tumors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

TCP was often produced as a byproduct of chemical processes, such as the manufacturing of soil fumigants aimed at eradicating nematodes -- a common pest for farmers in the Livingston area.

While officials say the amount of TCP in the drinking water doesn't pose an immediate threat to the public, the levels are still higher than the state recommends.

"All city wells contain TCP at levels in excess of both the (Public Health Goal) and (Notification Level), and will require treatment when resources become available," according to the memorandum to the city engineer.

However, Councilman Gurpal Samra said the presence of TCP in all city wells isn't a surprise to him, and while the contamination is being taken seriously, it's not a serious threat.

"It's not a health hazard," he said. "We are aware of it."

Last year, Livingston was awarded $9 million in settlement money from the companies that introduced the contaminant to the groundwater. That money is going toward addressing the TCP problem.

Lately, the city has been working with a consultant to design a filter for well No. 8, Samra said. The result will serve as a blueprint as the city looks toward improving water quality in other problematic wells.

As far as the levels being "in excess" of state targets, he said sometimes the contaminant levels fluctuate depending on various factors, such as rainfall and how the measurement was taken. Samra also mentioned that the state has implemented stricter requirements in recent years.

"There are some wells that require action; we know that," Samra said. "And those, we have already discussed."

Once the filters are installed, they'll also have the ability to be adjusted to remove other contaminants if they become problems. Other contaminants the city has battled include arsenic and manganese.

"I do not use bottled water at home," Samra said. "I use that water in my house. I give it to my kids. If there was something that was unsafe, the state wouldn't allow it, anyway. It's not like the state is not aware of it -- the state is aware of it."

The state gets the figures from the treatment tests, and if Livingston were to test over the limit a certain number of times, the state would force the city to notify the public and shut down the problem well, City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez said.

The problem is one that spans the Central Valley.

"You're talking about an ag-based product that was used across the Valley," Ramirez said, adding that several other communities also are involved in litigation over the contaminant.

But the good news is the city is about 70 percent through its filter design.

City officials expect to have filter designs for well No. 8 completed by November. Options will likely be presented to the council by the end of the year.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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