California fire survivors now facing water contamination
Having just lived through the devastation caused by the California wildfires late last year, the residents of the affected areas are now facing the dangers of contaminated water.
Specifically, more than 60 percent of the public aquifers in western California are fed from areas affected by the fires, thus creating a serious risk of contamination of those waters, Clint Snyder, the assistant executive officer for the California Central Valley Water Board, told EFE.
According to Snyder, the fires that burned many homes consumed piping, roofs and windows made using PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which, when it burns, releases toxins and presents the risk of contaminating local aquifers.
Andres Lozada, a chemical quality control specialist, told EFE that PVC is a “great resource” for construction due to its “resistance, malleability and chemical stability,” but when it burns it generates not only carbon monoxide but hydrogen chloride and dioxins, all of which are “toxins and pollutants.”
In contrast to what happens in the industrial burning of PVC waste, where the emissions are controlled and processed to reduce their negative impact, the wildfires created “enormous quantities of toxic material that went into the air and possibly into the water.”
Fires such as the Camp Fire - which last November became California’s most destructive blaze ever, ultimately consuming more than 153,000 acres (62,000 hectares), 18,804 structures and taking the lives of at least 86 people - represent at least a double contamination source.
“The forest fire itself generated large quantities of dioxins by burning trees and undergrowth, and in addition it added more pollutants by burning the polymers used in construction,” Lozada said.
Moreover, other substances resulting from the fire, including benzene, increase environmental pollution and put the health of local residents at risk, not only in the devastated areas but also in neighboring zones.
The US Department of Health and Human Services has catalogued benzene as a carcinogen and says that long-term exposure to it can produce leukemia and colon cancer.
Another contamination risk for the aquifers are the waste materials and sediments caused by the flames, California water and aquifer authorities told EFE.
Authorities have issued an alert in Paradise, one of the towns most affected by the Camp Fire, for residents to boil their water before use, adding that although 22 of the 24 pipeline systems are free of contamination the alert will remain in effect until the two remaining systems can be declared free of pollutants.
In the city of Santa Rosa, more than $8 million has been spent on replacing hydrants, valves and other components of the pipeline system at more than 350 homes and buildings, including about 1,300 feet (396 meters) of water piping, according to a local report.