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Higher levels of contaminants found in Oak Hills water

Date: 1/18/2016

OAK HILLS — One San Bernardino County agency said it’s “not an emergency,” but the water in one local county service area has levels of chromium above the drinking water standard.

The Water and Sanitation Division of the county’s Special Districts Department sent a letter to Oak Hills residents in County Service Area 70J reporting that higher levels of hexavalent chromium have been discovered in the water system, which “violated a drinking standard.”

“Although this is not an emergency, as our customers, you have a right to know what you should do, what happened, and what we are doing to correct this situation,” the letter reads. “The department is currently looking into treatment methods and alternative sources. We anticipate resolving the problem in a timely matter.”

The department said residents “do not need to use an alternative water supply” such as bottled water. They also added that “this is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately.”

The county agency said some people who drink water containing chromium in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer. The department recommends that residents who have other health issues “concerning the consumption of this water, may want to consult their doctor.”

The department, which routinely monitors for the presence of drinking water contaminants, said it found that water samples in October showed hexavalent chromium levels of 18-23 micrograms/liter ug/L, the report said.

President of the Oak Hills Property Owners Association Terry Kostak told the Daily Press that the chromium issue has not been a secret for those who have stayed informed about county issues in the area.

“The main issue is the state changing its parts per-billion standard that was set by the federal government,” Kostak said. “Once that happened, Oak Hills was one of many areas that was suddenly plunged into the violation zone — but we are not in violation.”

California limited the permissible level of hexavalent chromium (sometimes called “chromium 6”) in drinking water in 2014. The standard was set at 10 parts per billion (ppb), equivalent to about five teaspoons of the toxic chemical in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Once the standard took effect, California became the first state to impose a limit on the contaminant in drinking water, taking action even before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has a drinking water standard of 0.1 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or 100 ppb for total chromium.

“The presence of slightly elevated levels of hexavalent chromium is not a water quality emergency. Water providers, by law, must continually check water quality, and remedy any variation that exceeds state or federal standards,” Mojave Water Agency Spokeswomen Yvonne Hester told the Daily Press. “The County of San Bernardino is following the proper process by notifying its customers, as well as seeking solutions to bring the level of hexavalent chromium in compliance.”

Compliance for hexavalent chromium is based on the Running Annual Average of the results. The RAA for the fourth quarter in 2015 for County Service Area 70J was 18ug/L, which is above the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water standard for maximum contaminant level of 10ug/L.

Nearly 1/5 of the raw groundwater used for public drinking water systems in California contains excessive levels of potentially toxic contaminants, according to a decade-long U.S. Geological Survey study that provides one of the first comprehensive looks at the health of California’s public water supply and groundwater, the Daily Press reported in July.

The small town of Hinkley, about 30 miles north of the Victor Valley, was thrust into the national spotlight when chromium was found in the drinking water and legal clerk and environmental activist Erin Brockovich took on Pacific Gas & Electric in court, stating that PG&E was the source of the contamination. The movie “Erin Brockovich,” which was released in 2000 and starred Julia Roberts, focused on the activist’s litigation against PG&E.

In November, a handful of Hinkley residents spoke to the Daily Press and shared their 28-year struggle with the Chromium 6 contamination as the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board approved a new cleanup and abatement order for PG&E.

“We have people in our area that are hysterical because of some online misinformation about the chromium issue,” Kostak said. “We are not the new Hinkley of the modern age.”

The county department has asked Oak Hills residents who received its notice to share the information with people “who drink this water,” especially those who may not have received the notice directly.

For more information on Oak Hills water, contact Steve Samaras at 760-955-9885 or the Special Districts Department, Water and Sanitation Division at 12402 Industrial Blvd., Suite D-6, in Victorville.

The water issue will be discussed at the Oak Hill Municipal Advisory Council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Oak Hills Community Center (Fire Station No. 40), 6584 Caliente Road in Oak Hills.

This story will continue to be updated throughout the day.