Sacramento Water Treatment Test Exposes Residents to Carcinogens

    According to the Sacramento’s ABC10 investigative news team, the city knowingly tested a new water treatment chemical for a year despite early indications the new treatment produced carcinogenic byproducts.

    The chemical test began in 2013, and revolved around the water treatment chemical aluminum chlorohydrate, or ACH. ACH was considered a more cost-effective treatment than the existing chemical, ALUM.

    Both ALUM and ACH are coagulants, bonding to impurities during the water treatment process. The chemicals weigh down silt and other impurities, sinking them to the bottom of large pools, after which the impurities are washed out of the water.

    ACH treatment, however, produced significant amounts of disinfection byproducts, or DBPs: substances the environmental Protection Agency labels as possible carcinogens. In addition, DBPs can result in low birth weights and an increased risk of miscarriage, especially during long-term exposure.

    Spikes in DBP levels during water treatment tests are not unusual—something similar occurred earlier this year in Flint, Michigan. Michigan authorities, however, took prompt action, recommending the elderly, children, and pregnant women should consider drinking bottled or filtered water until the problem was resolved.

    Sacramento citizens, however, received no warnings. Despite the fact high DBPs were reported days into testing, the project continued for a year. During that time, many in the city were exposed to DBP levels higher than the 80 parts-per-billion set as the safety benchmark by the EPA. Some drinking water had DBP levels in excess of 130 ppb.

    Critics of the study suggest money motivated the city’s reluctance to come forward. Sacramento Utility Director Bill Busath is on record as saying “There was an expectation that we would be able to save quite a bit of money.” The city, for its part, claims DBP levels were never in excess of EPA-required quarterly tests, which is true, although some charge test results were corrupted by redirecting water from different sources.

    As for the view that ACH was more cost effective, that assumption has been shot down. According to ABC10, the cost-saving abilities of ACH was based on bad data, and the original ALUM was, in fact, cheaper as well as safer.

    In short, it’s a mess, and one that has left many Sacramento residents unsure if they can trust the quality of their drinking water. Point-of-entry home filtration systems offer a long-term solution, reducing chlorine, chloramines, and DBPs from your household water. At the least, a small kitchen countertop filter gives your drinking and cooking water a reduction in disinfection byproducts—whether your city chooses to tell you such chemicals are present or not.