News Feature | June 6, 2016

Bernie Sanders On State Of San Joaquin Water: 'Unbelievable'

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Nitrate contamination in California’s San Joaquin Valley is so pervasive that many people lack access to clean drinking water.

During a rally there last month, Democratic presidential primary hopeful Bernie Sanders expressed shock about the state of drinking water.

"I’ll tell you something I did not know before I came here," he said, per Alternet. "I was in Flint, Michigan a few months ago and as all of you know, the children in Flint, Michigan were poisoned by the lead in the water they drank. And in Flint, Michigan, people cannot turn on their taps and use the water in their homes. Now, I thought that was Flint, Michigan. I did not know that there were thousands of homes right around here [in the same situation]. That is unbelievable ... that people have got to go out and buy bottled water,” Sanders said.

Sanders is right about the state of drinking water in the region, which has been linked to health problems and major costs for residents.

“The eight-county San Joaquin Valley has some of the most contaminated aquifers in the nation: 92 drinking water systems in the San Joaquin Valley had a well with nitrate levels above the legal limit from 2005 to 2008, potentially affecting the water quality of approximately 1.3 million residents. In addition to public water systems, the State Water Board sampled 181 domestic wells in Tulare County in 2006 and found that 40 percent of those tested had nitrate levels above the legal limit,” according to an analysis by the Pacific Institute, a water think tank.

“The San Joaquin Valley has the highest rates of drinking water contamination in the state, and the largest number of public water systems found in violation of U.S. EPA limits for nitrates, arsenic, fecal coliform bacteria, and other contaminants. All of this, despite the fact that California has legally declared that every citizen has a right to safe drinking water,” CityLab reported.

Research has linked nitrate contamination in drinking water to birth defects and other health problems.

A study from researchers at Texas A & M University published in Environmental Health Perspectives zeroed in on this problem. The study confirmed “a long-suspected link between crippling birth defects and the nitrate contamination that threatens drinking water for 250,000 people in the San Joaquin Valley,” The Fresno Bee reported.

The research found that “mothers of babies with spina bifida were twice as likely to have consumed 5 milligrams or more of nitrate from their daily drinking water than women whose babies had no major defect,” the report said.

In cases of spina bifida, a baby’s brain and spinal cord development are compromised, resulting in difficulties ranging from bladder problems to paralysis.

Isabel Solorio, a Lanare, CA, resident, is among those living with water contamination. She drinks from plastic gallon jugs.

“Sometimes it’s slimy,” she said of her tap water, per CityLab. “The atmosphere and the Earth are sick. And people are sick. All these dots connect.”