Overview of In-Home Water Testing Study by Dr. Gina Solomon
Dr. Gina Solomon from the Public Health Institute (PHI) in Oakland, and also faculty of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) was recently awarded a grant to fund in-home water testing after the Camp Fire. She is most interested in health issues after fire in relation to drinking water. She is excited to be here to try to help by offering drinking water testing at the tap for community members that want it.
Overview of the Study
Aim: testing drinking water in home for benzene and other Volatile Organic Compounds (chemicals with similar properties to benzene)
Goal: better understand what’s going on with drinking water contamination after the Camp Fire and address any issues that may come up during the study
Time-frame: one year starting about now (September 2019 to August 2020) – most of that timeline will be in the next few months
Funded by National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – submitted grant last spring, response was quick for a funding agency
Questions for Project: Benzene has been detected, mostly in dead-end service lines to burned homes, but also to standing homes. What is happening between service line and tap? Also interested in finding/verifying the source of the benzene contamination – there are theories, but no scientifically supported reason has been verified. Are there other contaminants other than benzene or ones that haven't yet been identified? Those also might give us a clue to the source.
Focus: Benzene and other VOCs similar in properties. If they find contamination during Phase I sampling, they will come back to look for more other substances, some of which aren’t regulated or hazardous, but might be clues worth more investigation. If find significant benzene, will also test indoor air to see if any is becoming airborne. It is possible, but only under certain concentrations.
Organizations involved: University of California, Davis (folks in attendance), Tracking California (mapping info in an interactive way – already have great maps, but hope to add value).
Timeline: The study just got funded. Looking for volunteers, map their locations, then may reach out to find people that live in gaps where no sign-ups. Back in early October to perform testing. If you sign-up, a team member will call to set up appointment for sampling. Results will come within a few weeks of sampling. Dr. Solomon will report back to community at public meeting (hoping for mid-November).
Sampling: ~175 homes. If there are more than 175 people interested, may have to pick and choose unfortunately (apologize). Sample will be taken from kitchen tap after removing aerator within faucet. The visit will take about 30 minutes. They will also be asking homeowners to fill out a questionnaire with questions about your water use, if you now or ever detected any smell, if you have experienced any potential health concerns, how often you have contact with water (showers, washing dishes, etc.). Phase I testing will be for benzene and related VOCs, then they'll come back in November for more testing from a smaller group. Audience Question: How long will water stagnate before it is sampled? Dr. Solomon's answer: Honestly, the team has been wrestling with this. The longer the water sits in pipes, the more likely they are to find contamination if it is there to find. If you are using the water and flushing the pipes, you are more likely get a negative result, which may not mean there is nothing there. Would like to ask people to not use water, but understand it is a logistical issue. Will work with homeowners to see what is possible. Want to let sit at kitchen sink for at least 12 hours (as a bare minimum) – gives best confidence that non-detect is truly non-detect. The longer it sits, the more confident we are in ND. They also hope to sample water that has stagnated for much longer at uninhabited standing homes. Phase 2 sampling – only ~20 homes more in depth analysis and detailed sampling, add filter to tap and run water through it for 2 weeks and analyze filter after. They are looking for signature for what ended up in the pipes.
Sample Sites: ~130 PID homes, also testing in Del Oro service system. Interested to explore the different approach taken by Del Oro. If you know anyone with a standing home in the Del Oro service area, please also encourage them to sign up for sampling. Also looking for folks from Del Oro's BuzzTail district – west of here and outside burn area, which could serve as non-fire-affected control sites. No commercial or public building, but could be any type of home (mobile, apartment, stick-built home). Looking for uninhabited homes, helpful for long stagnated water. If you rent, will need owner and renter permission.
What might we find? Benzene (it has already been found and it spurred the study), disinfection byproducts (if found they will explain what those are – they come from chlorine mixed with organic material in reservoir), other VOCs (if found, they will explain what they are and what we know about them).
Phase 2 testing, they are looking for remnants of smoke, plastics, and other chemicals. Again, for Phase 2 sampling – only ~20 homes more in depth analysis and detailed sampling, add filter to tap and run water through it for 2 weeks and analyze filter after. They are looking for signature for what ended up in the pipes.
Looking for volunteers!! If you volunteer, they will want to look at many things about your plumbing system including your water heater, whether you've had a whole-house filtration system installed or any other type of filter (this should not discourage you from signing up!), where your service line is, where your meter is, they'll look under your sink for pipe types, and ask about and/or look for fire damage to things like outdoor irrigation or inside home. It will be about a 30 minute visit from a researcher team of two people.
Benefits: Free water testing, contributing to a better understanding. Worried there will be other communities. Protect personal info. Approved by UCSF and Public Health Institute's Institutional Review Boards that oversee research work. If don’t want water results shared, you have that right. We want to share with PID and DDW to help them better address problem. Also connected with study at UCD – people been through fires – wildfires and health. Interested in all sorts of health impacts including smoke inhalation, stress, etc. This data can help inform their study. For more information about the UC Davis research, visit https://environmentalhealth.ucdavis.edu/california-wildfire-research
The image below recognizes the members of the Study Team – some are volunteering their time so that the funding could go toward the most testing.
To Sign up: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415-289-9310. They are looking to come out for sampling in early October, so contact the team right away!
Water Supply Recovery Program Update – Sami Kader, WaterWorks Engineers
This is PID's third community meeting – meetings were held in May and July, and now this update in September. As of May's meeting, PID had sampled 724 sites. As of July, they had sampled ~1700 sites and had begun focusing on water mains and service lines to standing structures, and as of 9/9/19, they've now sampled 2,725 sites.
The sample and testing data is publicly available at PID's Recovery website: https://pidwater.com/recovery. The site has been rearranged slightly, but you'll find 3 GIS maps: water advisory lifted map, service line sampling map, and main line sampling map (shown below in this order).
Current data is looking very similar statistically to previously reported data. The vast majority of samples meet regulatory requirements with the methylene chloride exception (this topic was raised in July and there will be more here soon). 98% of water mains are clear, 70% of service lines to burned structures are clear. 2-3% of service lines to standing homes violate regulatory standards, and this represents a fair number of specific locations. They are working to identify where the contamination is so it can be addressed.
Methylene chloride (DCM) interference was a significant topic discussed at the July PID Community meeting (notes can be found here). The latest testing results seem to confirm that it was caused by the galvanized steel pipe portion of the sample manifold that had been used in June interacting with chloroform (a disinfection product that is expected to be detected in small amounts in water). They've seen little or no incidence of DCM above regulatory limits (Maximum Contamination Limit, MCL) after changing the sample manifold. They are re-sampling all sites where DCM was found.
Main Clearing Progress – many steps to send letter lifting advisory, including sampling network of mains… 172 miles overall - 122 miles have been tested and cleared (70% of total). Remaining mains not yet cleared tend to be smaller diameter, dead-end mains. They will get to those too.
Mains with Advisory Lifted map – blue lines on map – most main thoroughfares of district. In order to clear any service line (service address), PID needs to be confident that the water is meets regulatory requirements from the water treatment plant all the way to your particular service line before they issue a letter lifting the water quality advisory.
Sending a Water Quality Advisory (WQA) Lifted Letter
Letters lifting the water quality advisory have been sent to 300 service addresses as of the preparation of this presentation; the number is closer to 400 as of today. The process is outlined below to explain the timeline involved from sampling to sending a letter.
PID and the Recovery Team want to be very confident that accurate results have been obtained all along the way. There are several quality control (QC) checks along the way. Step one is to sample the site – this process is visible - you can see the crew setting up and sampling. Once the sample is processed by lab, they send results to PID. Results go through QC step to ensure sample matches source (that the result was actually from that particular service line). The results are then uploaded to their data warehouse (200,000 tests over almost 3,000 sites), then uploaded to GIS maps. When the results meet regulatory requirements, it takes time to go from a clean service line result to lifting the water quality advisory (WQA). Steps: review address for status of local main, configuration of meter (if from a banked meter set, the meter may need to be severed from the bank if there are burned lots around unless they've tested all meters from bank), confirm meter tested serves standing structure (some records say standing home when home really burned), then candidate for WQA lift. Multiple sets of eyes (engineering and operations staff) verify all considerations. Review candidate list on weekly basis and get together to review and see if letters can go out. QC is very important and it takes time. Having cleared main network has significantly sped up process.
As of 9/9/19, 300 WQA-lift letters have been sent out (closer to 400 tonight, about 25% of standing structures). At the current rate, expect to finish all standing structures by March 2020. Bars in green in the image below represent those that are done and bars in gray represent those projected for completion, while the number of WQA-lift letters are represented by the blue line – it is getting steeper thanks to clearing so many mains. At the start of sampling it took about 60 days from sample to letter, now it is more like 30 days.
Burned Lot Service Line Replacement Program
For burned lots, the long term plan is to replace all the service lines. PID is working with FEMA for funding. Short-term, they have begun replacing lines to burned structures when rebuilding or living in temporary housing on site (55 have been completed to date). PID has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a contractor to help PID staff with service line replacement just last week. The goal: replace service line prior to certificate of occupancy. So far, PID has stayed ahead of the rebuild pace so residents will be ready to move in with potable water. Bringing a contractor on will help them keep that pace. They plan to prioritize for rebuilds based on successful completion of a key inspection (this is not finalized yet and they are working with the Town of Paradise to determine how this should be done). Their initial thought is for a stick built rebuild, priority would be given to those that have had a successful framing inspection. And for manufactured rebuilds, priority would be given to those that have had a successful underground inspection. They plan to install a 1” diameter service line and ¾” meter near location of prior meter. They will consider adjustments to this based on rebuild needs, owners would submit a request to PID staff, it will be reviewed and may result in charge to customer if non-typical replacement is made.
PID has also completed about 300 service line replacements for those living on a burned lot in temporary housing. In order for replacement to be done, you must have PG&E service connected. Again, replacement will consist of a 1” service line and ¾” meter near original location. Additional consideration should be given to anticipate the needs of the final permanent build and make sure 1” service line and ¾” meter is adequate for final build.
Requests are currently being processed in the order they are received (and once these requirements are met) by available PID staff. Once the contract is awarded, PID will communicate with the public an updated process for requesting service line replacement and an updated timeline.
The next PID Community Update meeting is To Be Announced, but should be sometime mid-November - they are hoping to coordinate a report of results from Phase I with Dr. Solomon.