Whether it was the Tubbs Wildfire in Santa Rosa, the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, or the recent CZU Lightning fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, traces of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been discovered in the water source after these catastrophic events. It was only in October 2017, after the Tubbs Fire, that benzene was discovered in Santa Rosa’s municipal water source. In fact, city officials were unaware that their water contained the toxin until residents reported a nasty odor and taste. After a year of repairs and $8 million spent, the residents of Santa Rosa could finally utilize their tap water worry-free. Due to the lack of testing, we are uncertain whether benzene or any other VOCs had previously contaminated other water sources after such devastating fires. Poor infrastructure, combined with droughts, winds, and dead trees in the forests, have contributed to welcome conditions for dangerous wildfires in California and elsewhere along the west coast.
Improper disposal of chemicals has allowed VOCs to contaminate groundwater. Additionally, the disinfectant used by municipal water companies creates a byproduct called total trihalomethanes, which represents another category of VOCs that contaminates water. The carcinogen can also be emitted in gas form from cleaning products, office supplies, and pesticides. During the Camp Fire that ravaged Paradise, residents and firefighters emptied out certain pipes as they drew enormous amounts of water from the system to fight the fires. The empty pipes created a vacuum, which in turn sucked in the toxic air from the nearby burning homes. After the disaster, water officials detected multiple VOCs in their water. Of the 500 water samples collected, officials of the Paradise Irrigation District said 30 percent of them had tested positive for benzene, a carcinogen. The average levels of benzene detected were 31 parts per billion (ppb). California’s legal limit for the carcinogen is set at 1 ppb. In fact, it was discovered that a home in Paradise had benzene levels of 923 ppb, while in Del Oro, a property had 530 ppb. Thereafter, residents were warned not to use the water for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, or bathing. Some were urged to avoid hot showers. While many residents relied on bottled water, others purchased tanks. With 10,500 affected lines, the repair could cost as much as $300 million. Unfortunately, until today, residents of Paradise have been unable to enjoy safe drinking water.
Unfortunately, VOCs are not the only carcinogens we have to worry about after fires. To cool and contain particularly high-heat, high-fuel fires, firefighters employ aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The firefighting substance, commonly used by the military, fire training centers, and airports, is also one of the biggest causes of water contamination from PFAS. As AFFF contains perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) or perluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), it could lead to increased cholesterol levels, immune system related illnesses, thyroid problems, and even cancer. Known as “forever chemicals,’” due to their inability to break down, these carcinogens can remain in our bodies for years. In a test conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007, results reflected that an estimated, has 98 percent of Americans have these toxins in their bloodstream.
Since the fires, we have received an increasing number of calls from concerned customers living in fire-affected areas. Fortunately, many of these customers own a Kinetico K5 Drinking Water Station that is equipped with an auxiliary VOC filter. Not only will our reverse osmosis system remove the VOCs in your water, but will also protect you from carcinogens such as PFOS and PFOA. Certified to remove the respective toxins, our Kinetico solution guarantees to remove more contaminants than any other residential unit on the market. With a variety of optional filters to choose from, our system is customizable to your water needs, ensuring you receive the safest, cleaning, and purest drinking water. Interested in our drinking water station? Sign up for a free onsite water consultation or give us a call at 408 371 5521 to learn more!