SCV Water Agency poised to notify county, city about suspected carcinogen

The Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant at SCV Water. photo courtesy SCV Water.

Local water officials found trace amounts last month of a non-stick chemical suspected of being carcinogenic in 17 of its wells, requiring them to notify key agencies about the discovery.

The amounts of a chemical called PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, were found in such minuscule amounts that none of wells require being shut down under state-set guidelines.

Nevertheless, those minuscule amounts now require — after state water officials recently lowered the allowable levels of that chemical — Santa Clarita City Council officials and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to be notified of the water-test results.

On Tuesday, when the SCV Water Agency board meets, members are expected to vote on receiving and filing “PFOS and PFOA notification level exceedances.”

Although there are many industrial uses for PFAS, it’s perhaps most commonly known as the non-stick component that went into making Teflon useful in non-stick pans.

Officials with the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water have agreed on what those safety levels are.

A month ago, they announced updated guidelines for local water agencies to follow in detecting and reporting the presence of the two chemicals in drinking water that make up PFAS — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

One well shut down

In June, SCV Water shut down one of its wells after tests for PFAS exceeded the response level — a level set by the state calling for the removal of a drinking water source.

In May, as part of its quarterly sampling required by the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water, or DDW, SCV Water sampled 15 wells for PFAS chemicals.

Of the wells tested, eight were above the interim notification levels set by DDW. A notification level is one set lower than the one requiring action.

In August, after state officials lowered the tolerance threshold for PFAS, nine more wells were found to contain PFAS, bringing to 17 the number of wells about which local governing agencies whose jurisdictions include areas supplied with drinking water must now be informed.

State water officials set a separate contamination level for PFAS when it comes to amounts considered safe enough to be consumed in drinking water.

One SCV Water well was shut down in June when the amount of PFAS exceeded the safety level, called a response level.  

17 wells

In a memo dated Sept. 18, 2019, to the agency board by Mike Alvord, director of operations and maintenance, he informs agency directors: “During August 2019, all operating SCV Water wells were sampled for PFAS. Some results have been received while others are still pending.”

“Currently, none of the August 2019 results, with the exception of the one well identified in May 2019 testing, which remains out of service, exceeds the response levels.”

“As of the preparation of this report, 17 wells exceeded one or both of the revised notification levels.”

The one well removed from service exceeded DDW’s interim response level of a combined 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA, Martin said last month.

SCV Water heads expect stricter guidelines will be set for response levels as they were for notification levels.

In an effort to put “parts per trillion” in context, SCV Water spokeswoman Kathie Martin said: “For perspective, one part per trillion is a microscopic measurement for something in the water or air and would be equal to four grains of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

The stricter state guidelines are all in response to increasing awareness these past couple of years about the adverse effects of these non-stick chemicals.

Health concerns

Studies indicate that both PFOA and PFOS can have reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, thyroid and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both sets of chemicals have caused tumors in animals.

With regards to humans, studies show increased cholesterol levels, liver enzymes and uric acid among exposed populations with more limited findings related to:

  • Decreased infant birth weights.
  • Negative effects on the immune system, including decreased response to vaccinations.
  • Cancer, for PFOA chemicals.

The PFAS family of chemical was widely manufactured in the U.S. between 1950 and 2015, and are primarily used in industrial and consumer products to repel grease, moisture, oil, water and stains.

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