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Arsenic Contamination Threatens RV Parks

February 2, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Thousands of eastern Coachella Valley residents live in areas that potentially contain hazardous levels of arsenic in their groundwater, a problem officials say could cost millions to remedy, according to the Desert Sun, Palm Springs, Calif.

In Coachella and the unincorporated eastern valley communities of Mecca, Oasis and Thermal, Riverside County environmental health officials know of wells at 19 mobile home and RV parks that recently tested positive for dangerous levels of arsenic ranging from 12 to 91 parts per billion in their groundwater.

Studies have linked arsenic, a naturally occurring tasteless and odorless element, to risks of cancer when ingested over decades at levels of more than 10 parts per billion, according to state and federal health officials. Children are even more susceptible because of their low body weight.

The problem isn’t unique to the valley. Arsenic has contaminated water systems across the West, prompting cleanup efforts, officials say.

Locally, however, the problem seems to be isolated to those east valley unincorporated communities, said Steve Bigley, environmental services manager for the Coachella Valley Water District. That puts the problem squarely on the valley’s most vulnerable residents: Its low-income farm and service-sector workers.

It’s the same population that is plagued by other health and safety concerns such as faulty sewage and electrical wiring problems, officials say.

So far, 10 of the 19 identified parks have installed filters to treat the water to ensure it’s safe for residents to drink. County officials say they’re working with the rest of the parks to fix the arsenic problems. Those 19 cases are being handled because the problems were brought to the county’s attention, and not the result of regular testing sweeps in the area, said John Watkins, the department’s deputy director.

Many more parks are either just starting to test their wells, have too few units to be subject to state drinking water regulations, or rest on tribal lands outside of county jurisdiction, local advocates and officials say. That, they say, likely extends the number of East Valley residents affected by arsenic-tainted drinking water into the thousands.

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