MERCED COUNTY, CA – For several years the Central Valley knew it had some major problems with our water supply, with much of that having to do with the toxic chemicals that were used for half a century or more to increase the farmers marketable yield of fruits, vegetables and nuts. The soil is now contaminated with pesticides, fertilizers and manure from various livestock raised in the Central Valley. This has created a very dangerous mix of nitrates which have drained into our water table and may have led to many cancers and other diseases in valley residents.
These nitrates are now at such a dangerous level that residents throughout the Central Valley have reported skin rashes after showering and may also be linked to “blue baby syndrome.” This occurs when nitrate levels are at or above The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of nitrate as nitrogen (NO3-N) at 10 mg/L (or 10 parts per million) and has been known to cause a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants under six months of age called methemoglobinemia or “blue-baby” syndrome; in which there is a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.
“Generations of people who live here know not to drink the water,” said Susan De Anda, a clean water advocate. “People pay more fro this toxic water- sometimes as much as $100 a month for water just to shower with. On top of that they are paying for drinking water.”
On average the Central Valley pays 2 to 6 percent of their income for water that they cannot drink and is the highest rates in the state and receiving the worst product in return for their hard-earned money.
Dig baby dig! Water wells among wealthy farmers who are responsible for much of the contamination can cost one to two million dollars and “when dug, they actually end up siphoning good drinking water away from poor communities,” said Genoveva Islas, program director at Cultiva la Salud, a non-profit health advocacy organization in the Central Valley.
The Center for California Health Care Journalism at USC recently analyzed the death records in the Central Valley and found that 19 people die from diabetes related complications EVERY DAY in the eight San Joaquin counties they studied.
In some counties the state has paid to retrofit water filters on drinking fountains in some schools and daycare centers and has also provided filtered bottle stations for residents to fill up their own containers.
“All these are interim solutions, but we also need to create water awareness,” De And said. “The water may look clean, but that doesn’t make it safe. “It shouldn’t matter who you are or where you live, clean drinking water is a basic human right.”