Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) took the California Department of Public Health to task Monday for “dragging its feet” on setting new limits on chromium 6 in drinking water, adding to a growing chorus of frustration among local officials.
In a letter sent to the department’s director Monday, Schiff called the years-long process for setting more strict contamination limits “unconscionable.”
“I want to try to light a fire under them to get moving,” Schiff said in a phone interview. “Unless we continue to stay after them, it may take them years to go to the next step.”
Last month, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich slammed state public health officials for failing to establish a new maximum contaminant level for chromium 6 in drinking water, and City Council members in Glendale pushed for a quicker pace.
Cities throughout the San Fernando Valley have been grappling for years with chromium 6 contamination caused by an aerospace manufacturing industry that has all but vanished from the landscape.
“We have been concerned for over a decade that chromium 6 could cause cancer and we have known now for five years that it does in fact cause cancer when ingested through drinking water, yet there still is no statewide standard that will protect millions of Californians from this harmful compound,” Schiff said in his letter to Public Health Director Ron Chapman.
Dave Mazzera, assistant chief of the department’s division of drinking water and environmental management, said in an email Monday that state officials plan to have a maximum contaminant level available for public comment by July 2013.
The rule-making process would take an additional 12 to 24 months, he added.
“Assuming the process moves along without any major delays,” a new limit would be established sometime between July 2014 and July 2015, Mazzera said.
Last year, state officials recommended limiting chromium 6 levels in potable water to less than 0.02 parts per billion. That took almost a decade to accomplish as new research came along, Mazzera said. Chromium is currently regulated at 50 parts per billion.
Before treatment, underground water from some local wells contains between 45 and 70 parts per billion of chromium 6. Glendale drinking water has less than 5 parts per billion after blending with untainted imports from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
But Schiff called that process “at best a very interim solution.”
Glendale has also spent more than $8 million, much of which has come from grant funding, on experimenting how to strip chromium 6 from the water.
The EPA, which has been investigating groundwater contamination since 2007, plans to drill 30 new wells in Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles this month to expand its research.
When Lisa Hanusiak, an EPA project manager, presented the plans last week at Glendale City Hall, some City Council members asked if there was anything that could be done to speed things up.
The EPA plans to do its own cleanup once the investigation is completed.
“Do you need us to make some noise?” asked Councilman Ara Najarian. “Would strong language from the Glendale City Council and our other local representatives in any way speed up the process?”
The EPA plans to complete its investigation by 2015, but Hanusiak said the federal government has stopped projecting when it will finish its evaluation of a chromium 6 cap.
“It’s likely the state will be ahead of the federal government in coming out with a standard,” she said.