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Questions Over Contaminated Water And Air In Ripon

RIPON (CBS13) - Parents of kids with cancer were expecting to get answers about their concerns over contaminated water and air. But as CBS13's Julie Watts discovered, the public meeting in Ripon left most there with more questions than answers.

The water board gathered a room full of experts from various State health and water agencies, but two local agencies were conspicuously missing: the City of Ripon and the Ripon School District.

Instead of getting answers about contaminated water and wells on Ripon public school campuses, mother Kelly Prime was left frustrated by a chorus of responses from water officials who said the wells and water on campus were out of their jurisdiction.

"I'm getting a runaround. There's no city of Ripon present here, there's no school district here that can answer any questions," said Prime.


The public meeting was billed as an opportunity to learn about soil vapor and groundwater investigations related to a cancer-causing chemical called TCE found in the groundwater in Ripon.

Prime's son and his best friend were both diagnosed with cancer about a year apart -- along with at least half-dozen kids at their school and the surrounding neighborhood.

Kelly wanted to know more about the low levels of TCE found in drinking fountain water at her son's school and a contaminated irrigation well on another campus where the chemical was found above the legal limit. Her son and his friend both attended summer camp at that school prior to being diagnosed with cancer.

"Do we know for sure that well is irrigation and not drinking? Because it was reported at one time that it was a drinking well," Prime asked a Regional Water Board official, referring to historical water records.

"We do not regulate that school, that water system," he said. "It's just a connection of the city of Ripon."

There were also experts at the meeting to explain the testing that's been done for the colorless, odorless TCE vapor which is also known to cause cancer.

They found concerning levels of TCE vapors near homes in downtown Ripon, and another related chemical vapor near her son's school. 

"Are we now going to be able to come in and do this vapor intrusion testing in homes?" Prime asked.

But again, folks were frustrated to learn there were no immediate plans to test inside the adjacent homes and schools where experts say the vapor can cause the most harm.

CBS 13 reiterated Prime's question, asking the Water Board if they would consider doing vapor-intrusion testing in the homes of people who have concerns about elevated levels.

"I think it would be best for us to finish our process and verify the data that we have, and then make a decision," a state representative said.

Then we asked an obvious follow-up question, "Is it possible, if they continue to breathe this vapor, that more people could get cancer while they wait?"

"I would have to ask the toxicologist about that," she said. "I don't know."

So, we walked over to the state toxicologist who was also at the meeting and we asked the same question.

"If you are exposed to vapors, yeah, the longer you are exposed to vapors, that would increase the risk," she said. "But I think the question that may be more important is: are you actually being exposed to the vapors?"

That is the question that many in Ripon desperately want answered. But for now, they continue to wait.

The Water Board says it plans to do additional testing in 2020.

In the meantime, CBS 13 remains dedicated to working to get answers for these parents and for others in the city of Ripon.

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