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Study: Illegal Arsenic Levels In Drinking Water Of Thousands Of Californians

(KPIX 5) -- A new report by an environmental watchdog group is detailing the extent of groundwater contamination across California.

The report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) shows 95 public water systems serving 55,000 people statewide provide drinking water with illegal levels of arsenic.

EIP Director of Communications Tom Pelton authored the report. "Small rural communities don't have the tax base to build water filtration plants. With long-term exposure, arsenic is known to cause cancer," said Pelton.

"Public health experts say that drinking water with arsenic is a lot like smoking. When you smoke a cigarette you're not going to drop dead immediately from one cigarette but the longer you smoke the bigger your cancer risk," said Pelton. "It's just not right in the richest country in the world that we should have people drinking contaminated water."

The study comes after a series of KPIX 5 reports which revealed dangerous levels of arsenic in drinking water in Kettleman City in the Central Valley, as well as at Kettleman City fast-food restaurants along Interstate 5.

According to the study, among the water systems with the highest levels of arsenic in California, two are in Monterey County. Representatives from each system declined to be interviewed, but the county said it is very expensive for these small water systems to get rid of the arsenic.

"You don't want to just throw it back on the ground," said Cheryl Sandoval with the Monterey County Health Department. She said it's often the rural homeowners themselves who have to foot the bill to buy and maintain filtration systems and then legally dispose of the arsenic.

"You have to deal with the arsenic waste and the cost of hauling the arsenic waste and if you concentrate it enough it may be considered a hazardous material," said Sandoval.

While the EPA allowable level is ten parts per billion, the highest level found in California - in Fresno County - was almost nine times that. Second-highest was a small water district in Kern County at more than eight times the legal limit.

The report also takes issue with the warnings sent to homeowners who are dealing with arsenic-tainted water. Pelton said advisories sent out to affected residents suggest the water is still safe to drink. The reports calls on the state to tell people to stop drinking or cooking with the water altogether.

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