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Bill Would Create Panel To Direct Cleanup of Perchlorate In Wells

Dec 9, 2002 | San Bernardino County Sun

The perchlorate plume spreading through drinking-water wells in the Inland Empire is getting attention from state lawmakers and agencies whose goals are to reduce contamination to safe levels.

A bill recently introduced in the state Senate proposes a local authority to oversee cleanup. And a state regulatory agency has taken steps to establish guidelines for how much perchlorate will be allowed in drinking water.

Monday, State Sen. Nell Soto, D-Ontario, introduced a bill to protect the groundwater quality in portions of San Bernardino County affected by the contamination.

Senate Bill 34 would establish the Inland Empire Water Quality Authority, which would coordinate the cleanup of perchlorate and other contaminants and pursue those responsible for the pollution that threatens drinking water in several communities, according to a statement issued by Soto's office.

The authority will "ensure strong and consistent action to enhance water quality and help coordinate cleanup efforts so that public drinking-water supplies are no longer threatened and the polluters continue to pay for the cleanup,' Soto said.

The state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the agency responsible for determining safe levels of perchlorate and other pollutants in drinking water, last week issued a draft recommendation that proposes a public-health goal of between two and six parts per billion (ppb) of perchlorate in the state's drinking water.

The public-health goal sets a level, with an adequate margin of safety, at which no adverse effects will occur for sensitive populations.

The federal action level for perchlorate in drinking water is 4 ppb. Test wells recently drilled near the county's landfill in Rialto contained 350 and 820 ppb.

"This is just draft, and it probably won't affect anything right now,' said Kurt Berchtold, an official with the state Water Quality Control Board. "It can't affect for the local water agencies until the standards that will be set by the end of January 2003 go into effect.'

Perchlorate is used in the manufacture of rocket fuel, explosives and fireworks. Its discovery in the drinking water has led to the closure of 22 wells in Rialto and Colton as well as some used by Fontana Water Co. and the West San Bernardino Water District.

High levels of perchlorate in drinking water can impair thyroid function and is considered harmful to infants and women who are pregnant.

In other developments, the state moved perchlorate higher on the priority list of chemicals to be disclosed under Proposition 65 because of its reproductive toxicity.

And U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., earlier this month asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman, to provide cleanup funding and assistance to California communities where perchlorate contamination threatens their drinking-water supplies.

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