News Feature | April 25, 2017

For Years Californians Have Been Drinking Water Contaminated By Carcinogen

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

For some time, California has been struggling to control a probable human carcinogen called 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP) in its drinking water.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report earlier this month, “that found 94 water systems serving eight million Californians are contaminated with 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP).”

TCP is a heavy liquid with a chloroform like odor. It is mostly used as paint and varnish remover. It is a byproduct of two pesticides that were widely used in agriculture in the 1980s, according to The Huffington Post. Earlier this month, the state was set to employ “a strict state-level maximum contaminant level” for TCP.

The EWG report further stated that “of the 562 contaminated wells discovered, around 60 percent are in the San Joaquin Valley, ‘concentrated in Kern, Fresno and Tulare counties, the three leading agricultural counties in the state.’”

The two pesticides that lead to TCP contamination, Dow’s Telone and Shell’s D-D, “have long since been discontinued or reformulated to remove the TCP, but environmental advocacy groups like the Environmental Working Group say the damage has already been done.”

According to the U.S. EPA, “Short-term exposure to high levels of TCP may cause irritation of eyes, skin and the respiratory tract, and depression of the central nervous system. In addition, it may affect concentration, memory and muscle coordination.”

The EPA also stated on its website that animal studies have been able to connect “TCP to cancerous tumors, liver and kidney damage, and reduced body weight.” The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found TCP to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

“This is a contaminant that, because it does not adhere to soil, very readily contaminates and migrates into groundwater,” Bill Walker, managing editor at the EWG and co-author of the report, told The Huffington Post. “It’s remarkably persistent. Once it’s in the water, it stays there for centuries.”

Tests for Kern County “show that 151 contaminated wells and 20 different water systems have exceeded the state’s proposed legal limit for TCP since at least 2001.”

Some communities have considered suing the companies responsible for TCP contamination.

The Huffington Post reported that in December, “the city of Clovis in Fresno County won a $22 million judgement against Shell, and there are currently dozens of other legal actions against Shell and Dow.”

Jenny Rempel, director of education and engagement at the Community Water Center advocacy group, told The Huffington Post that a “new statewide limit for TCP will strengthen the case of utilities that lack the funding to properly treat contamination without raising rates for their customers.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.