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Lead in Santa Monica Drinking Water Highly Unlikely, City Report Says

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

February 25, 2016 -- A lead contamination crisis like the well-publicized one affecting Flint, Mich.’s drinking water supply is “highly unlikely” to happen in Santa Monica, according to a report prepared by City Water Resources Manager Gil Borboa that was issued to the City Council on Monday.

The lead contaminating Flint’s water supply came from service lines running between the water main in the street and the home. Santa Monica does not have any lead service lines, Borboa wrote.

“Santa Monica’s corrosion control processes have been deemed ‘optimal’ by State drinking water regulators, a designation that Santa Monica’s water treatment is in accordance with best practices and no further corrosion treatments are required,” he wrote.

City officials have maintained a “corrosion control program” for many years that includes adjusting the pH, alkalinity and mineral content of water “to ensure it would not fall on the aggressive side of various indicators of corrosiveness,” wrote Borboa.  

He added, “This corrosion control program continues today in addition to the lead and copper testing.”

The testing of lead and copper has been a federal requirement since the Environmental Protection Agency issued the Lead & Copper Rule of 1991 (LCR).

Santa Monica began testing under this regulation in 1992, when it reviewed 61 homes considered “high risk.” The results of the testing indicated the City had “optimized corrosion control,” Borboa wrote.

Testing has continued every three years to make sure Santa Monica remains in compliance with the 1991 rule. The next testing is expected to take place this summer.

Although Santa Monica as a whole remains safe from contamination, according to government officials, it does not mean that people in general are removed from any risk.

Corrosion of household plumbing fixtures is the most common source for lead in drinking water in homes, Borboa wrote. 

Sacramento regulations created over the years, including the strengthening of what “lead free” means for pipes and pipe fittings, have made corrosion less likely to happen.

Periodic flushing of pipes before drinking and replacing older pipe systems is a precaution Borboa recommended for homeowners concerned about lead exposure.

“While risks to safe water are always present, from lead and other potential contaminants, the on-going diligence of water quality staff and a fully engaged city government differentiate Santa Monica from the conditions which led to widespread lead contamination in Flint, Michigan,” Borboa wrote.

Lead poisoning might not be on the horizon in Santa Monica, but the city is not immune to drinking water contamination. A gasoline additive called Methyl tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) was found in Santa Monica’s water supply in the mid-90s.

The contamination affected five of the city's 11 wells located at Charnock Well Field on Westminster Avenue and Santa Monica lost much of its drinking water. It began importing water from the Metropolitan Water District in 1996.

This MBTE incident led to legal fights and eventually settlements in 2003 and 2006 with oil companies Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil totaling approximately $250 million.

The wells at Charnock and a water treatment facility re-opened in 2010.

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