Billions of Gallons of California Water Are Reported Polluted

Jan. 29, 2003

More than 70 billions of California groundwater is unusable for drinking because of MTBE and perchlorate contamination, according to a new report from Environment California, a new public interest group.

The report suggests that dozens of California's water sources are contaminated, which could be enough to supply water for a year to 400,000 families.

A report due out Tuesday says more than 70 billion gallons of California groundwater cannot be used for drinking because of contamination by two pollutants.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said researcher Sonya Lunden of the Environmental Working Group. "As shocking as this statistic is, it's almost certainly an underestimate."

Senator Nell Soto of Sacramento is planning to introduce legislation next month that would increase water protections and require polluters to replace lost water supplies, reported news channel KPIX out of San Francisco.

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and man-made chemical. Most of the perchlorate manufactured in the United States is used as the primary ingredient of solid rocket propellant. Wastes from the manufacture and improper disposal of perchlorate-containing chemicals are increasingly being discovered in soil and water. In addition to fuel, perchlorate contamination has been tied to plants that made munitions, fireworks and charges that deploy airbags.(1)

Several types of treatment systems designed to reduce perchlorate concentrations are operating around the United States, reducing perchlorate to below the 4 ppb quantitation level. Biological treatment and ion (anion) exchange systems are among the technologies that are being used, with additional treatment technologies under development.(1)

Gasoline manufacturers who use MTBE, a gasoline additive that provides a cleaner burning fuel, are expected to phase it out by Dec. 31, 2003. The alternative, ethanol, is the only approved oxygenate for California Cleaner Burning Gasoline.(2)

1 "Perchlorate Contaminates Southwest Water Supplies," January 2003.

2 "Chevron to Eliminate MTBE From Its California Cleaner-Burning Gasoline in Southern California," January 2003.

Source: KPIX/KCBS,