Excessive levels of carcinogen 1,2,3 TCP found in Kern County water

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A known carcinogen was detected in levels higher than 200 times the state recommendation in Kern County water, according to the Cal Water Annual Water Quality Report.

The EPA says the chemical, called 1,2,3 TCP (or trichloropropane), is a degreasing agent, and colorless to straw colored liquid.

Back in the mid 1900's Shell Oil and Dow took their chemical waste and turned it into a pesticide that killed nematodes. The TCP, that was created in the process, was not removed and spread within the pesticide over fields all across California, according to attorney Todd Robins.

(Photo Courtesy KQED)

Robbins represented several cities battling for money to filter the harmful chemical out of their water.

The companies stopped using TCP in their fumigates in the late 1900's, and in 1999 the State Water Resources and Control Board issued a notification level of 0.0005 micrograms per liter in drinking water. The board's public health goal is 0.7 parts per trillion, as recommended by health officials.

This is only a recommendation. Right now no agency or water purveyor is required to meet any standard when it comes to TCP.

"When you look at a map, you can see that it's disproportionately found in the Central Valley. Specifically in Kern County... so there's more places with 1,2,3 TCP in Kern County and also the detection with the highest amount," Gerardo Tinoco, South Kern Community Programs Coordinator at Community Water Center.

Tinoco says this chemical is not only harmful to ingest by drinking but you can soak it in while showering. He compared it to arsenic, saying a one time exposure will not make you sick, but research links years of exposure with multiple kinds of cancer.

To protect yourself and your family, Tinoco suggests using bottled water until a maximum level has been set by the Water Board.

The Board is making a trip to Kern County in late July to talk with residents about the need for a cap to be put on this chemical. 

"[Residents] have started a petition and letter signing campaigns, actually I have a few on my desk," Tinoco said the best thing people can do it to get educated on the issue and let the board know their concern.

23ABC reached out to Shell Oil and has not received any information on the current status of the lawsuits between them and Bakersfield, Delano, Shafter and Wasco.

23ABC reached out to Cal Water to find out how they are working with residents and have not received a call back.

Tinoco said Cal Water has been in front of the TCP issue, already placing filters on some of their main water lines and testing for the carcinogen, while the state does not require them to do so.

Delano, Wasco, Lamont and Shafter all settled with Shell and Dow. Arvin, East Niles Water District, Vaughn Water, and Greenfield are all still pending litigation.

Attorney Jed Borghei who is working on the pending cases in Kern County issued this statement.

"The TCP litigation brought by public water suppliers against Dow and Shell has been dragging on for far too long.  It is time for Shell and Dow to step up, take responsibility, and do right by all of the Central Valley communities that have been affected by the TCP pollution that they have caused."

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