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from today's Greenwire....

Facilities in 4 Calif. cities cause health problems -- report

Water distribution and treatment facilities in four major California cities pose health risks to residents, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Released just days before Californians will vote on Proposition 50, a $3.4 billion bond to upgrade deteriorating water systems, the NRDC report ranked facilities in San Francisco and Fresno as "poor." Los Angeles and San Diego water treatment facilities received "fair" ratings.

The report is part of a larger project that looks at water facilities in 19 cities nationwide, but NRDC chose to release the California portion early to garner support for Prop. 50. The environmental group helped write the proposition.

According to NRDC, San Francisco is one of the last large cities in the nation with tap water that exceeds the federal maximum standard for trihalomethanes, contaminants that may cause cancer or reproductive problems. In 2000 and 2001 the city's water registered 84 parts per billion of trihalomethanes and 82 ppb, respectively. The federal standard is 80 ppb.

Beverly Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said the city's water quality is improving, noting this year it is averaging 57.9 ppb of trihalomethanes (Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle).

The report blames pollution from farm and industrial sources for creating many of the health concerns. Water in Fresno, a city in the agriculturally-rich San Joaquin Valley, routinely registers problems with nitrates, pesticides and industrial chemicals, which can endanger the health of children and pregnant women.

Martin McIntyre, Fresno city director of public utilities, said wells that register high levels of nitrates are taken out of service. "We take the issue of public protection very seriously," he said (Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee).

"It's like someone that hasn't brushed their teeth in years," said NRDC senior attorney Erik Olson about the facilities' problems. "It may be hidden for a while, but eventually it's going to catch up with you" (Miguel Bustillo, Los Angeles Times).

Water in San Fernando Valley groundwater wells, which serve Los Angeles, registers high levels of rocket-fuel chemicals, radioactive gas and nitrates, says the report.

But Jerry Gewe of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for water said the region's tap water is safe. "Customers don't drink water from an individual well in a system as complex as ours," Gewe said. "By mixing water, what comes out of the tap is well within the standards" (Kerry Cavanaugh, Los Angeles Daily News, Oct. 29). (All cites Oct. 30 unless noted.) -- MV

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