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Lynne Plambeck: Polluted well should be an SCV priority

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: June 23, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 23, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Why is there no plan for the potential spread of the water pollution in the Saugus Aquifer?

In 1997, local water agencies discovered that our groundwater was polluted with ammonium perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel and bomb-making from the long-since-defunct Whittaker-Bermite manufacturing site in the middle of our valley. While the pollution had undoubtedly been in the groundwater for quite some time, it was only discovered after a sensitive test for it became available, and the potential danger to water wells located near the site made the requirement for testing obvious.

Ammonium perchlorate affects the thyroid gland, which, in turn, regulates many hormonal processes in our bodies. Pregnant women, babies, children and those with compromised immune systems are most likely to be affected, as is the case with any pollutant.

Though the levels found in 1997 in the drinking water wells were not high enough to cause cancer, they did represent a problem for these sensitive populations.

According to a report issued by Environment California in 2005, thyroid levels can lead to retardation and behavioral problems, as well as diminished mental ability in adults.

“Reduced thyroid levels in the first few weeks of life for pre-term and low-birth-weight babies are associated with increased risk of neurological disorders, including the need for special education by age 9,” the report adds.

This report urged lawmakers to set regulatory levels for this new pollutant at a level low enough to protect children. In 2007, the state set the level at 6 parts per billion. Recently, the Office of Health Services asked that it be reduced even lower, perhaps to only 1 part per billion.

Now another water well in Santa Clarita has been closed after tests showed perchlorate levels at between 5 and 12 parts per billion.

At a recent City Council meeting, the general manager of Castaic Lake Water Agency down-played this pollution as minimal. The state of California does not agree, and undoubtedly, every mother in Santa Clarita would not, either. 

Our City Council members also should not have agreed. Many speakers appeared before them last Tuesday to ask that they not approve the new general plan for Santa Clarita that will nearly double our projected population and depend on this water supply.

They asked that the council instead to delay the approval for a month or two and take a hard look at this newly discovered pollution problem. The council approved the plan anyway without a thorough review or understanding of the import of this new problem.

Had they thoroughly understood the health risks to children, the cost of treatment facilities and the potential threat to this important part of our water supply, I can’t believe they would make the same decision. But how much can one tell a council member in three minutes at the podium?

It also appeared that they did not have time to read the many carefully written letters sent to them over the weekend after the community became aware of this well closure.

Two other issues added to the public’s concern. The well was closed nearly a year ago in August 2010, but Valencia Water Company, owned by Newhall Land and Development Co. apparently did not notify the other water agencies or the public. Also, detection of perchlorate in this well means that the pollution plume is continuing to spread in a westerly direction.

The CLWA general manager again claimed this was no surprise, they knew the plume might flow in that direction. Then why are there no monitoring wells near this water-supply well?

Why was this well only on an annual testing schedule? How does letting a full year go by before testing a threatened well protect our children?

Most of the wells that are in the path of this pollution plume are tested only once a year. To their credit, board members of Newhall County Water District voted several months ago to test their threatened wells quarterly, but no other water company is doing that.

The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, or SCOPE, and other community groups urged the City Council, water agencies and the Department of Health Services to require 1) more frequent, monthly testing for wells that could be tainted by perchlorate pollution, 2) a new modeling of the pollution plume and 3) additional monitoring wells in order to protect public health.

Santa Clarita is a family-oriented community. We want clean air, clean water, good schools and a safe place for our children. So the idea of tainted water is an especially disturbing one for our valley.

We must address it head on by requiring frequent testing and greater transparency. And we must not let those who seem to hold far less than a strong commitment to the health of our community and our children for whatever reason, persuade us that this is not an important issue.

Lynne Plambeck is the president of SCOPE.


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