There is now a new challenge for rebuilding in Paradise, Calif.,– toxic drinking water
The drinking water in Paradise, Calif., where 85 people died in the worst wildfire in state history, has been contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical benzene, according to water officials.
According to CBS San Francisco, officials said they believe the contamination happened after the firestorm created a “toxic cocktail” of gases in burning homes that got sucked into the water pipes as residents and firefighters drew water heavily, causing a vacuum in the system that sucked in the toxic fumes.
Officials have said that may explain why benzene, which has been linked to anemia and leukemia, has been found in tests at various spots rather than from one source in Paradise, where 90% of the building were decimated by the blaze.
Paradise Irrigation District officials say they have taken about 500 water samples in town, and they have found benzene 30% of the time, according to CBS San Francisco.
“It is jaw-dropping,” said Dan Newton of the state Water Resources Control Board. “This is such a huge scale. None of us were prepared for this.”
According to CBS, those who have assessed the problem say the water district may be able to clean pipes to some homes later this year, however, it will take two years and up to $300 million before all residents can safely drink, cook or bathe in the water from their taps.
About 1,500 of the town’s 27,000 residents are living in the few surviving houses, according to CBS. Water officials have warned them not to drink, cook, bathe in or brush their teeth with tap water and to only take quick showers with warm water. Those residents are living on bottled water deliver daily and water tank deliveries.
Norman Stein is a resident in Paradise. According to CBS, Stein drives 15 minutes each week to the water distribution center and loads the trunk with bottles and stacks them in his garage.
He and his wife disagree on the risk posed by their tap water. According to CBS, she opened the sink tap to show visitors how clear the water is.
“I could feel an oily substance before. But it’s cleared up now,” she said. “This is good water.”