Rate of chemical linked to cancer increasing in East Bay drinking water

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Daniel Kim/Senior Staff

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A chemical which has been linked to increased risk of cancer, trihalomethane, or THM, has been rising in East Bay drinking water for the last few years, according to a report released June 8 by the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

In addition, the EBMUD has proposed to raise its water rates by 9.25 percent beginning July 12, and another 9 percent beginning July 1, 2018 — if the rates are approved after a public hearing with the EBMUD Board of Directors on July 12, according to its website.

“(The proposal) is kind of outrageous when they are telling us the water quality is dangerous,” City Councilmember Susan Wengraf said. “I’ve always been told our water is very safe water … if I think it’s serious I will be notifying all my constituents.”

EBMUD spokesperson Jenesse Miller said, however, that THM levels are still well below the state and federal limit of 80 parts per billion, and emphasized that the water is safe to drink.

“Concentrations are still below levels where folks should be concerned,” Miller said, adding that EBMUD holds itself to a more stringent standard than the federal threshold.

THMs are created as a result of organic matter breaking down into molecules and combining with chlorine, according to Charlotte Smith, a professor in the campus public health department. She added that the recent increase in THMs can be attributed to altered water quality due to the drought.

Smith, who also serves on the expert panel of the Water Research Foundation, said although the East Bay drinking water passes safe drinking water standards, citizens can either pass the water through a carbon filter or boil the water to get rid of THMs.

In order to improve water quality, Smith suggested the district can evaluate the point of the application of chlorine and process by which they limit organic matter.

In response to poorer water quality, Miller said the EBMUD will use revenue from increased water rates to improve 30 miles of aging water pipelines over the next two years, and water treatment plants which will ultimately reduce THM concentrations.

Despite the city’s conservation efforts, the increase in water rates is actually due to the city’s need to maintain and improve infrastructure, Miller said.

“Whether (people) use one gallon or 200 gallons a day, the infrastructure that brings them water has to be maintained,” Miller said. “You’re not just paying for the water the way you would at a supermarket. You’re paying for reliability and safety of water.”

Miller added that while 9.25 percent could alarm residents, the actual price is roughly $4.34 more per month per user.

“We strive to set rates at a reasonable fair level and necessary to invest in the system,” Miller said.

Christine Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.

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  • lspanker

    Questions that might be answered by someone interested in doing serious journalism (or is that too much work to ask?):

    * What in laymen’s terms are trihalomethanes (yes, we know they are carbons bonded to 3 halogen atoms and one hydrogen), how are they formed/introduced into the water supply, and what danger to they pose in drinking water?

    * What concentrations represent (a) significant health risks, (b) maximum legal or recommended amounts in drinking water, and (c) currently found in EBMUD water?

    * What type of remediation/treatment methods are effective on the utility (supply side)? What would commercially available systems cost to build/operate on an annual basis, how much water would they be able to treat, and to what levels of remaining THMs could be expected on the discharge side?

    * Are there any other capital equipment improvements that could result in reducing exposure or lowering concentrations of THMs in the drinking water supply?

    * What if any home remediation steps (aeration/filtration etc.) are possible for concerned users, and how effective are they in terms of THM reduction?

  • FabBerkeley

    Thank you Susan Wengraff of Berkeley’s City Council. I appreciate knowing someone in City government is concerned about and describes an increase of cancer-causing chemicals in EBMUD water! Let’s have EBMUD run the water through some carbon filters before it gets to the consumer – REALLY!!! And they want nearly a 18% increase in two years???