The city that said ‘no’
Maywood, Calif., has become a ‘culture of participation’ to help solve its pollution problems, particularly with contaminated water.
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However, Connecticut has set protective limits, and the US Food and Drug Administration limits the amount in bottled water. California has set “secondary” limits to address aesthetic problems, at 50 micrograms per liter of water. Records show Maywood Water Districts No. 1 and No. 2 regularly exceed those amounts, although they don’t rise to levels cited in scientific studies as dangerous.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Maywood, Califorinia: The city that said 'No'
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“That’s one drop in 42,000 gallons of water!” says Sergio Palos, general manager of Mutual Water Co. No. 1, about the secondary standards. He says that of 625 tests for manganese, his delivery system exceeded limits 12 times. Still, he knows that even “a very small, minute amount” can be noticeable.
New pipes, regulations
Clean water may be coming, slowly but surely: Mr. Palos will also buy costlier imported water to blend with the dirty well water. CDPH finally issued violations against Water Co. No. 1 and Water Co. No. 2 in 2008, ordering them to clean up the manganese to acceptable levels.
The agency said in a statement that it expects the problems will be fixed in 2010. Palos has replaced some of his oldest pipes and is working on replacing more gradually, as his low-income customers cannot afford huge rate increases. A regional water-replenishment district has loaned Water Co. No. 2 $900,000 for water treatment. State regulators also told Water Co. No. 3 to keep an eye on TCE (trichloroethylene), known as a carcinogen, which has been detected in one well, and to shut the well promptly if it exceeded legal limits.
An EPA spokeswoman says that the agency is currently reviewing TCE to see if there should be stricter limits. Jane Williams, head of California Communities Against Toxics, a large network of environmental justice groups, says that the agency has been reviewing it for five years, while people continue to drink unsafe water.
“Maywood is a classic example of these problems,” says Ms. Williams. “Manganese is not regulated at all, and TCE is regulated but underregulated. People are drinking TCE in Maywood, and they’re not even being notified.”
There is work on other fronts. As part of the joint agency initiative, the EPA is discussing partnering with a university engineering department to conduct communitywide water testing. State toxics enforcers are eyeing two dozen sites in Maywood and Vernon for further investigation. They hope to use residents as “eyes and ears” to pinpoint problem spots.
Most of all, there’s a sense that things are happening in Maywood, that its issues are finally being recognized.
“I just think the tenacity of the local activists there and the leadership in that community – that’s what’s making a difference there and that can’t be underscored enough,” says Williams. “It’s taken them a while, but people know where Maywood is now.”
Hector Alvarado of the community group Padres Unidos de Maywood, says of the recent attention: “Maywood es un milagro. It’s a miracle.”
This article was conceived and produced as a project for The Dennis A. Hunt Health Journalism Fund, administered by The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC's Annenberg School for Communcation & Journalism. It was reported with fellowship funds.
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