In a letter to the California Department of Public Health this month, Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa applauded the agency’s draft limit on a cancer-causing water contaminant, but the majority of water agencies whose representatives spoke about the matter at a public hearing on Friday opposed the change.
Those who oppose the draft limit, including Pasadena Water & Power, the Coachella Valley Water District and the San Gabriel Valley Water Assn., called the draft limit of 10 parts of Chromium 6 per billion cost-prohibitive and unnecessary. A representative of Burbank Water and Power, however, spoke in favor of the change.
If approved, the limit will not affect Glendale, which has spent more than $9 million on researching the contaminant leftover from the aerospace industry that once inhabited the area. The city already limits the contaminant to 5 parts per billion.
“This is the level that we feel best serves our citizens and business customers,” Ochoa wrote in his letter, explaining city officials’ reasoning for going beyond what’s legally required.
Glendale’s research played a significant role in the state’s work to set a draft limit, but more than a dozen other agencies at the public hearing in Los Angeles discredited the state agency’s analysis.
According to state law, the agency, which announced the draft limit in August, must get the limit as close to a 2011 public health goal of .02 parts per billion for Chromium 6 as is economically feasible. The public health goal identifies the level of Chromium 6 in drinking water that would not cause significant adverse health effects in people who drink two liters of water per day for 70 years.
The final limit is expected to be established in 2014.
Several water agencies urged the department to reconsider its draft limit because of economic implications and called the current limit for total chromium of 50 parts per billion sufficient. The federal limit for total chromium, which includes both the contaminant chemical and Chromium 3, a nutrient, is twice that. There is no current state-specific limit for Chromium 6.
“The costs are five to seven times higher than the department has estimated,” said Steve Bigley, director of environmental services at the Coachella Valley Water District, where large amounts of Chromium 6 naturally occur.
Health Department officials estimate that reducing the limit to 10 parts per billion will cost water agencies statewide $156 million in total. But Bigley said it could cost Coachella Valley Water District alone about $60 million “to avoid one theoretical cancer case in our community.”
Ramon Abueg, chief assistant general manager of electric and water services at Glendale Water & Power, who attended the meeting, said it was clear to him that the lowered limit would cause rates to go up in other areas.
“But not Glendale,” he said, since the city’s water rate plan already goes beyond the proposed limit.
Only a few people spoke in favor of the change. They included Daron Banks, a member of a community advisory committee on Chromium 6 in Hinkley, a town made famous by “Erin Brokovich,” a film released in 2000 that chronicles the story of Hinkley residents who sued Pacific Gas & Electric for contaminating their water with the chemical.
Banks said his community has been decimated by Chromium 6-tainted water, with many of his friends getting cancer. He urged the health department to drop the limit to within 10% of the public health goal—even though Glendale research has shown that known removal methods can’t get the level below 1 part per billion.
“If you asked every person in the state if they would pay $1, $5, $10 extra on their bill in order to have safe water, to protect our children, they would do that,” Banks said.