Glendale Water & Power has started testing a new filtration method to strip chromium 6 from groundwater and plans to start the process for other techniques next month. Previous methods have had some drawbacks, prompting the fresh approaches.
Filtration adds an extra step to current testing, but the others, which include using resins and absorption technology to suck out the cancer-causing contaminant, are new ventures.
“We’re blazing the trail here,” said Charles Cron, plant manager at a chromium 6 testing facility in northwest Glendale.
The new research is part of a $550,000 project approved by the City Council in October. The money comes from a state grant, the Denver-based Water Research Foundation and California Water Service Co., a San Jose-based utility.
Glendale and other cities throughout the San Fernando Valley have been grappling with chromium 6 contamination caused by the aerospace manufacturing industry decades ago. Glendale has spent more than $8 million, including this new project, on chromium 6 research. Much of the money has come from grants.
Public health officials are looking closely at the outcomes of Glendale’s tests as they consider setting stricter limits on chromium 6 in drinking water.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) in recent weeks slammed state officials for taking too long to set a new maximum contaminant level for chromium 6.
That has, in turn, ramped up pressure on Glendale to quickly finish its research, which started about a decade ago. Glendale has one of the only chromium 6 removal testing facilities and the state needs the city’s data, said Leighton Fong, a civil engineer at Glendale Water & Power.
Separately, the Environmental Protection Agency has expanded its 2007 investigation into chromium 6 in the San Fernando Valley by planning 30 new wells in Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles slated for this month.
Chromium levels are currently regulated at 50 parts per billion, which is much higher than the 5 parts per billion in Glendale’s potable water. Glendale’s groundwater is blended with clean imports from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
State officials would like to see if Glendale’s testing can get water below 1 part per billion, Fong said. Last year, the state set a public health recommendation for chromium 6 of .02 parts per billion.
“We haven’t been able to get much below 1. We’re hoping we could do better,” Fong said, adding the new testing should be complete by July.
The current test resin works, but it leaks formaldehyde and must be put through a process to also strip out that compound. It also accumulates uranium.
Once the resin accumulates as much chromium 6 as it can, it usually is dumped at a disposal site that officials don't want to clog with uranium.
Glendale officials hope the new resins will be cheaper and less difficult to work with. State officials will be factoring in the cost of chromium 6 removal as they set the new contamination threshold, which is expected to be hammered out by 2015.
Using a resin to remove chromium 6 is less labor-intensive and takes up less space than filtration, Fong said.
But what works in Glendale may not work elsewhere.
“One of the questions everyone’s asking is, ‘We know this works in Glendale, but will it work in Livermore or El Segundo?” Fong said. “Nobody has the same water.”