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Palo Verde Valley Blythe/Quartzsite Times | Blythe, California and Quartzsite, Arizona

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5/17/2013 8:00:00 AM
Chuckawalla Valley State Prison violates water arsenic levels

Jaclyn Randall
Associate Editor


BLYTHE - The State of California Department of Public Health Department sent a compliance order to Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP) issued on March 14 claiming that CVSP failed to comply with the state's California Safe Drinking Water Act.

The order, which was addressed to both CVSP and Ironwood Prison due to CVSP supplying water to both facilities, stated that the water had tested higher on average than the allowable limits for arsenic in the 2012 year.

CVSP collects data on contaminants (arsenic) on a weekly basis and reports to the state health department on a quarterly basis. Maximum arsenic levels allowed in water pursuant to the California Code of Regulations are .010 mg/L. Quarterly results at CVSP in 2012 .008 mg/L the first quarter; .008 mg/L for the second quarter; .017 mg/L for the third quarter; and .012 mg/L was reported in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-five out of 52 weekly reports showed the water over the .010 mg/L allowable limit.

It was determined by the public heath department that even though CVSP's water tested over the limit for nearly half the year, the data was sporadic enough that cause for concern didn't occur until the fourth quarter.

CVSP's water contaminant levels have been an issue since 2010 when the public health department noticed the inconsistent results from the monthly data submittals. At that time, the operator of CVSP's water system reported problems with the facility's reverse osmosis (RO) and alumina unit (AAU). The public health department received notification that the problems were taken care of and the public health department noticed improved water quality, temporarily. Over time CVSP's arsenic level reports showed anywhere from no detectable levels to exceeded levels of arsenic. The Public Health Department deduced that the water problems occurring at CVSP (and Ironwood) was "beyond the ability of the operator to evaluate and correct."

The public health department reported that since November 2008, five violations of various degrees have been recorded against CVSP. Violations include failing to collect bacteriological data; two for not monitoring within a required timeframe; late reporting of lead and copper data; and failing to collect perchlorate confirmation samples and not reporting the results that exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL). The latter resulted in a citation.

The public health department did acknowledge that CVSP reported experiencing problems with RO and AAU treatment systems over the past 18 months. The problems resulted in the inability to produce the necessary drinking water quality. However, with the limited monitoring that occurred, pinpointing the actual facility or component causing the problem was difficult. CVSP was informed that they needed to identify problems related to the treatment facility or components and those problems needed to be resolved.

The compliance order outlined several directives that needed to be addressed or face a penalty of $1,000 per day from the date of violation. The directives were that CVSP had to cease and desist from failing to meet the state's arsenic level standards; provide public notice regarding exceeding the arsenic levels; continue to provide public notice on a quarterly basis until further notice from the department; send Proof of Notification certification along with the public notice each quarter until notified by the public health department in writing; submit a arsenic reduction plan to the department by April 2; and no later than June 3, the department wanted a monitoring data and written report about the measures that were used to reduce the arsenic.

Jerry Olearnick, CVSP litigation coordinator said, "We immediately got on the problem when we received notification. All of the filters in the system were bad and they have been changed."

According to Olearnick, the water is being tested weekly and continues to be submitted to the department on a monthly basis. An arsenic reduction plan was submitted on April 11.

"One of our top priorities at Chuckawalla is the safety and security of our staff and inmates," said CVSP Acting Warden A.W. Gonzalez. "We routinely monitor contaminants in the water system and in December 2012 when we identified the problem we immediately took action to rectify the situation. We identified the cause and made the necessary changes following all protocols required at our institution."

Exposure to arsenic in drinking water at levels of 100 micrograms per liter over a period of time can lead to problems to the nervous system, cancer, circulatory diseases, and the development of corns on the hands and feet. There have been studies that show that exposure to arsenic at lower levels long-term can also create health problems such as high blood pressure, and cancer of the lungs, bladder, and liver, and nervous system disorders.

As of publication, Olernick said that CVSP has received no reports of arsenic-related illness from staff or inmates.

"We are now well below the maximum contamination level and would like to thank the plant operation staff for a job well done," said Gonzalez.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: Steve Palermo

@Jennifer Bickel: The official Department of Health Services MCL in California for arsenic is now 10PPB or parts per billion. It was at a maximum of 50PPB before 2008. The MCL is an AVERAGE. So if your system treats to 20PPB one month and 5 to 9 PPB the rest of the year, you're still in compliance. IF you have multiple sources of water available, more than one well in one area, then you could "blend" sources to keep the arsenic within the MCL.
Chromium 6 is another animal all together. Without ANY scientific evidence to establish the MCL for chromium 6 is has been stated the target is 0.02 PPB or 20 parts per trillion. If this becomes the MCL for chromium 6, expect to pay a whole lot more for a unit of Domestic water. A 5 to 6 million dollar treatment, removal plant should do the job for Blythe. What it means, water rates are going up.


Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: Good one

I believe you answered your own question Jennifer. Great points, and the article stated mg/L which is milligrams. As far as no arsenic-related illnesses, that's a question for CVSP.

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: Jennifer Bickel

I am hoping for clarification of the measurements quoted in this article.

Does mg/L represent milligrams per liter, or micrograms per liter? As stated, a health risk has been associated with an exposure rate of 100 micrograms (mcg/L), which equals .1 milligram (mg/L). This means, under ordinary circumstances, the 'acceptable' amount of arsenic allowed in water pursuant to the California Code of Regulations is 1/10th of the known health risk rate. Compare that to the third quarter measurement of .017 mg/L and the risk has increased by 58%.

How would arsenic-related illnesses due to long term exposure have been identified before now? If the overall health history of the staff and inmates for the past few years were to be re-examined in light of this information, would we find unexplained instances of damage to the nervous system, heart disease, or cancer? And the comments from reader Steve Palermo as related to chromium 6 are alarming as well.


Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: @ Where is our moneys Worth

Actually, the state isn't paying a comparable rate, as compared to private enterprise (solar companies) for people with their certifications
And-----Those responsible quit and retired before they could be held accountable.


Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Jane

Thats one way to get rid of em!

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: Where is our money's worth

The state prisons have very high paid water treatment employees who are supposedly licensed and certified to be doing a job each day. Our taxpayer money at work is allowing disease to accumulate and infect us, instead of being right on top of any potential problem. It should not have taken so long to determine there wad a problem if everybody was actually DOING THEIR JOB!! There are several water/sewage treatment employees who are hired specifically to prevent this from happening - let's have some accountability here - these water reports should have been NOTICED BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE. Where are the supervisors and their supervisors who all make very good money to prevent these issues?

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: In the Know

How is this news? I have received similar notices numerous times since I have been living in Blythe, and never have I seen it in the paper. Why do you care more about the inmates than you do the citizens?

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013
Article comment by: Steve Palermo

Large scale water treatment plants can be very complicated. I have worked on a Arsenic removal plant that has 32 filters containing nano-filtrate that removes both arsenic and chromium 6. This site is capable of treating 3,500 GPM of well water flow. It regenerates the filters with brine and presses the regenerate to remove the concentrated arsenic. The plant has 66 flow meters, 192 MOVs. It becomes quite difficult to determine which of the 192 valves have failed to work properly when the treated effluent is out of specification. Wait for the impending decision on the MCL for chromium 6. You might have to replace the whole plant's filter train.

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013
Article comment by: william wallace

have they checked blythes water?



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