Dr. Gene Dorio: Avoid ‘Love Triangle’ of support

Dr. Gene Dorio
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As a physician, I am fearful there are health threats to Santa Clarita Valley residents leaching into the water supply, threats that might make our home the Love Canal of the West Coast.

Headlining local news has been debate over expansion of Chiquita Canyon Landfill, unification of Santa Clarita Valley water agencies and construction of a long-planned new development: Newhall Ranch.

Could there be a triangle of support among these organizations working for their self-interest that might suppress understanding of this health threat?

In conducting research and discussion with well-published experts, I’ve learned the science of hydrogeology is complex and inexact and cannot preclude the percolation of chemical toxins and microbiologics into our water supply.

Indeed, around the country, there has been contamination of community water supplies from many sources, endangering public health. The Love Canal was a planned community near Buffalo, New York, when in 1978, landfill chemical waste oozed into the groundwater and onto the surface, causing significant illness to residents.

Children developed neurologic problems, while many residents had significant illness. Neighborhoods were evacuated, homes abandoned, and schools closed. Even now, almost 40 years later and being assured of total cleanup, new residents are getting sick.

In California, chromium was found contaminating water in Hinkley, near Barstow, as depicted in the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.” Locally, haven’t we learned lessons from the perchlorate contamination from the Whittaker-Bermite site closing some of our SCV water wells?

I have a 95-year-old patient and local resident who has no pets and rarely leaves home, but she was admitted to the hospital with profuse diarrhea and found to have infections that typically are found in tap water: giardia and cryptosporidium.

Water treatment plants use filtration and chemicals, commonly chloramine, but these techniques obviously are not always effective against microbiologic contaminates.

Back to the first part of the triangle: Chiquita Canyon Landfill has been on the outskirts of our city for more than 40 years. It hovers near two aquifers – and possibly over one – that furnish 50 percent of our valley’s drinking water.

One expert I spoke to, Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Joseph Suflita at the University of Oklahoma, told me: “The U.S. EPA estimates that all landfills will eventually leak. … It is only a matter of time.”

The state of California regulates water districts to monitor microbiologics, assuring there is no threat to our health – such as those suffered by my 95-year-old patient. The Castaic Lake Water Agency’s 2017 Water Quality Report released this week shows a clean bill of health for the agency’s water.

But the report told a different story last year. The 2016 report admits violation of the agency’s duty to monitor for microbiologics (page 5).

This would be like a surgeon neglecting to “scrub” his hands prior to an operation.

If the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors allows expansion of Chiquita Canyon Landfill, contaminated seepage can continue for decades, serving as a petri dish for infection and exposing water users to health-threatening toxins.

A vote by supervisors for expansion is like me advising my patients: “It’s okay, keep smoking!”

The second part of this triangle is the escalating public relations bandwagon attempting to sway citizens to unify the separate Santa Clarita Valley water districts into one controlling agency. This would put control of water into the hands of an elected board of directors.

We all know the influence money can have on those elected to office. Could campaign contributions affect votes and divert the direction of water flow away from citizens to developers?

A recent front-page article in The Signal (May 18) entitled “Local water users pay for slump” casts doubt on the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s budgeting, wherein directors assumed money would be received from developers.

Really? Do you plan the yearly family budget based on your tax refund, potential inheritance from the death of a family member, or winning the lottery? The result is the public pays higher rates for the CLWA shortfall and financial misdirection.

For several years, our community made great sacrifices to conserve water while developers in the Santa Clarita Valley continued to propose new homes despite the drought.

Not surprisingly and to our chagrin, they were approved by the city and county. It should be the obligation of developers to find a source of water when they propose their plan, bringing us to the third part of the triangle.

The Newhall Ranch development is planned along the Santa Clarita River and directly across Highway 126 from Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Yet why would anyone invest in property that might expose their children to malodorous air pollutants and contaminated groundwater?

From where does the developer get water? According to a Signal column (April 17, 2017), it has “secured its own water supplies using a combination of its well water, purchased water and recycled water from the project.”

Confirmation of this water source came earlier in the month when The Signal reported on April 5 the proposed Newhall Ranch project would receive water through a pipeline, constructed by Castaic Lake Water Agency to deliver State Water Project water.

Within this triangle, plans call for water to also move from Newhall Ranch and be shared with Chiquita Canyon Landfill for dust control, compaction, and landscape irrigation, according to the most recent Regional Water Quality Control Board report (page 2).

This water, though, is not suitable for human consumption, which begs the question: Have these Newhall Ranch wells been checked for chemical and microbiologic contaminates, as they are in the shadows of the landfill?

Money, water and political influence are moving back and forth in this triangle. We don’t need a Love Canal here, but this described Love Triangle could potentially produce a health-care disaster.

As a medical professional, I fear these relationships will allow exposure to tainted water that adversely affects the health of our community.

What should we do? Don’t allow expansion of Chiquita; don’t allow unification of the water agencies; and let the free-market decide whether anyone wants to invest in a home where their children will be exposed to foul air and contaminated water wells.

Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D., lives in Saugus. The Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning gave preliminary approval to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion in April, but the matter will come before the entire Board of Supervisors at a later date.

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