Get well soon

State officials have discovered four more south Chico wells contaminated with chemical solvents, forcing more area residents to seek other water supplies for drinking, bathing and cooking. But despite the growing dimensions of the groundwater-contamination problem, a state investigation has been hampered by a lack of funds.

Eric Rapport, a geologist for the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board, said funding requests have been made by his Redding office, and officials hope to have more information by the time they meet with Chico residents at a forum scheduled for 7 p.m. March 24 at the City Council chambers.

The problem was discovered late last year when state officials found contamination from chemical solvents in 25 of 40 Skyway Homes subdivision wells off Hegan Lane. But now there’s more bad news: The contamination isn’t confined to domestic wells in that subdivision. Furthermore, it’s possible that the problem is at least 20 years old.

The solvents—chlorinated ethenes—were also found in wells outside the subdivision on Hegan and Bruce lanes when state officials extended testing in January and when a couple of well owners conducted their own testing. The state water board recently learned that a plant several thousand feet from the subdivision, JM Smuckers Quality Beverages, Inc., has been treating its water for the contaminants for years.

That information and test results have led Rapport to suspect that the source of the contamination lies to the east or northeast of the Smuckers plant on Speedway East. “I’d say it’s more than likely that an old pollution source” that predates the plant has been “migrating,” Rapport said this week.

But Rapport says that to confirm the plume’s flow and source, officials need funding for the installation of monitoring wells, as well as more domestic-well testing. His office is also seeking funds for alternative water supplies for affected residents.

In the meantime, residents have been warned against using water that might be contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), an organic solvent used most often in degreasing operations. The EPA website says chronic inhalation can affect the central nervous system and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.

Another solvent, tetrachloroethylene (PCE), often used in dry cleaning, is considered even more dangerous and has also been found in some wells.

In testing the water, state officials compare the results to two standards: the state and federal drinking water standard and the higher standard called the state’s “Public Health Goal.”

In recent letters to residents, state officials explain that the Public Health Goal sets a standard that, if met, protects users from any “significant health risk” during a lifetime of use “without regard to economic considerations.”

In the November 2003 testing, 13 wells failed to meet the Public Health Goal standard. In the state’s January testing, a Cessna Avenue well failed to meet the standard for PCE and a Hegan Lane well failed to meet the standard for TCE.