Perchlorate Threat Yet Underlies Redlands, Held In Check By H2O Filtration System

More than a decade-and-a-half has elapsed since the City of Redlands and the State of California’s Water Quality Control Board initiated a remediation effort to eliminate perchlorate from that community’s drinking water or reduce its presence to levels that will not negatively impact the health of those drinking local tap water. Still, the chemical remains present in the local aquifer. As a consequence, the same water treatment methodology deemed to be the best safeguard of the public’s health previously remains in place.
Meanwhile, a report that there are a cluster of advanced thyroid cancer cases in the Redlands area has yet to be validated by scientific or medical authorities, who have not, however, contradicted that report.
State and local authorities maintain that the area’s water supply remains safe.
In 1997, it was discovered that perchlorate had shown up in the water of two of the City of Redlands’ wells that provide the city’s domestic and commercial water supply.
Perchlorate sometimes occurs naturally in arid environments. It can be associated with nitrate deposits. It was also a constituent of nitrate fertilizers imported from Chile for use in the United States from the late 1800s to the 1950s as well as in fertilizers using potash from New Mexico and Saskatchewan. Perchlorate has some limited industrial applications, and is used in fireworks, highway flares, the manufacturing of matches, airbag inflators, electroplating, aluminum refinishing, textile dye fixing, analytical chemistry and some pharmaceuticals. It is also used as a reactive agent in rocket fuel.
Lockheed Martin manufactured solid rocket fuel rockets and propellant from 1961 to 1974 at its 400-acre Mentone facility east of Redlands. Prior to 1961, the Grand Central Rocket Company manufactured, tested, and disposed of solid rocket propellant at the Redlands site.
An inquiry into the matter by the City of Redlands and the State of California Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board determined that waste disposal from the Lockheed Martin and Grand Central operations led to chemical contamination, including perchlorate, and resulted in a groundwater plume approximately seven square miles in surface area. It was determined that the perchlorate originating in Mentone was reaching a number of domestic water supply wells that serve several water purveyors throughout lower San Bernardino and upper Riverside counties, which included both Redlands and Loma Linda. Extensive sampling for perchlorate in the area included drawing water from wells located on former Norton Air Force Base. Monitoring wells at Norton were used to assist Lockheed and the Regional Water Quality Board in delineating the plume. Sampling indicated no on-site perchlorate contamination sources at Norton. Perchlorate was determined to be present in 46 municipal wells, with the highest concentration in the wells being 87 parts per billion. Lockheed Martin was put under a clean-up and abatement order.
By 2001, using a resin-based filtration system to deal with the issue was considered to be the best methodology for the perchlorate contamination remediation. Negotiations between Lockheed Martin and the Regional Water Quality Control Board led to an agreement that the company defray the cost of an ion-exchange filtration system and a management plan for it.
Lockheed Martin covered the more than $1 million cost of the installation of the resin-based ion-exchange devices in 2004 and 2005 and costs of approximately $1 million yearly ever since to replace the filters and maintain them.
This week, Ailene Voisin, a spokeswoman with the State of California for its various water quality control boards, told the Sentinel the resin-based filtration system is still in use by the City of Redlands as overseen by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board. “The specific type of resin-based filtration system is called ion exchange or IX for short,” she said. “Lockheed Martin still covers the cost for the operation and maintenance of the ion exchange system.”
Beyond the filtration system, Voisin said, the city is diluting water drawn and filtered from contaminated wells with water that has no perchlorate in it.
“In addition to the ion exchange system, another industry practice is blending,” Voisin said. “In 2007, Lockheed Martin funded the installation of two separate mechanical blending systems to address perchlorate impacts. Blending is the process where water from two different locations, with different qualities are blended to achieve the regulatory standards. For drinking water, these are concentrations of contaminants below the California maximum contaminant levels. The addition of blending enhances the reliability of the water supply system.”
Voisin indicated that the perchlorate contamination is no longer expanding further into the water table, but the contamination yet persists.
“Further migration of the perchlorate plume in the groundwater in a westerly direction has been stopped; however, the plume is still being monitored and treated as necessary,” she said.
Voisin said that “None of the extraction wells have been shut down yet. Regular monitoring and sampling are being conducted within the City of Redlands and surrounding cities to evaluate changes in the perchlorate groundwater plume. The frequency of sampling depends on various factors that ensure the adequate evaluation of perchlorate to ensure protection of public health.”
According to Voisin, “In April 1997, the California Department of Health Services developed an improved method for testing perchlorate in drinking water. The Department of Health Services initially established a provisional action level of 18 parts per billion. The current maximum contaminant levels for perchlorate is 6 parts per billion. The initial sampling in April 1997 found perchlorate in several production wells, including wells that belonged to the City of Redlands, the City of Loma Linda, the City of Riverside, the Victoria Farms Mutual Water Company, and Loma Linda University. A few of these production wells exceeded the provisional action level. In June 1997, the water board requested Lockheed Martin to address perchlorate that had been identified. In August 1997, the Water Board issued a cleanup and abatement order to Lockheed Martin to address the perchlorate groundwater plume. In April 2001, the cleanup and abatement order was amended. However, remediation of the perchlorate groundwater plume was still required.”
Carl Baker, Redlands’ officials spokesman, told the Sentinel, “The remediation is ongoing. The system is still active. Lockheed Martin continues to fund operations and maintenance costs,” which he said “vary annually. The treatment system consists of an ion exchange media that becomes exhausted based on operational conditions, gallons treated, perchlorate levels etc.”
Baker said the perchlorate contamination issue is not yet resolved. “When in use, perchlorate monitoring, consisting of source and treatment performance, is a weekly activity,” he said. “These results are reported to the State of California.”
Baker said, “Perchlorate source contamination and treatment is not solely an issue related to Redlands. Several local water utilities – Loma Linda, Riverside, San Bernardino – also manage perchlorate.”
In very minute quantities, perchlorate is used as a medication to control overactive thyroid hormone production. Nevertheless, an otherwise healthy individual’s exposure to perchlorate can prove highly destructive to his or her thyroid and other vital organs.
-Mark Gutglueck

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