RIPON (CBS13) — Moms of kids with cancer have been concerned about the chemicals found in the water in Ripon. Now their concerns are spreading to the air.
According to the EPA, Trichloroethylene (TCE) in the drinking water isn’t the only concern. The chemicals are also linked to health problems when they are found in the soil vapor and indoor air at certain levels.
Despite the fact groundwater in Ripon tests positive for TCE, CBS13 has learned, there has been no reported soil vapor or indoor air testing for this chemical in Ripon in over a decade.
State health officials confirm when TCE comes in contact with the air, it can create an odorless vapor linked to health concerns, including cancer.
“Vapor intrusion is a source of exposure to TCE and related chemicals,” said Sam Delson with the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. He notes kidney and liver cancers as primary concerns related to this chemical along with many others.
According to the agency, living or working above contaminated soil or groundwater can put you at risk. And as CBS13 reported, tests confirm TCE is in the groundwater in Ripon.
The City of Ripon recently shut down a drinking water well due to elevated levels of TCE-related chemicals. The City insists the water is safe, however, noting the levels detected remained below the legal limits for drinking water.
CBS13 found inaccuracies in the City’s water report and years that they didn’t test for the chemicals at all. And drinking water aside, some parents are just as concerned now about the air that comes in contact with the chemicals in the water.
“My concerns that I have is that our children played soccer, baseball, hung out on the grass just sitting,” said Ripon mother Kelly Prime.
Prime and her friend Monica Ferrulli’s sons are two of the four children diagnosed with cancer at Weston elementary.
After the women raised concerns that the cell tower on campus might be a possible contributor to the cancers there, the school district commissioned soil samples looking for other possible answers.
The soil sample report found “near-surface soil at the Site does not pose a significant risk to human health and the environment.”
However, while the district did test for weed killers, pesticides, arsenic and lead, they did not test for TCE.
When CBS13 questioned why the consultants hired to perform the testing didn’t test for TCE, they said they didn’t know about the history of TCE in groundwater. The district didn’t mention it.
The chemicals in Ripon’s groundwater are linked to the former Nestle decaffeination plant there and date back to the 70s.
An abatement order has required Nestle to test and report the chemicals in water since 2006, which incidentally appears to be the last time anyone tested for TCE vapor in Ripon.
Nestle’s latest annual report found elevated levels of the chemicals in the Upper Aquifer under Ripon and in some Ripon irrigation wells, including an irrigation well for Ripon public schools.
Which prompts concern from Prime and Ferrulli who note their sons spent a lot of time outdoors and even drank from the hose at school. Experts, however, say outdoor vapor exposure is not generally a concern. Health concerns are generally linked to higher vapor levels that may accumulate indoors.
We asked the district if it’s ever tested for vapor at the school, and why it didn’t test the soil for TCE, but the school district did not respond.
“It’s scary,” Prime said.
The city of Ripon confirmed it has never tested for TCE vapor anywhere in Ripon, and Nestle said the last time it tested near the plant was 2006.
The levels found back then were well below the safety standards at the time, but the EPA recently updated those levels due to new information about the health effect of the vapor on pregnant women and babies.
Today the levels found in 2006 would be above the current screening levels.
Prime and Ferrulli are now compiling a growing list of cancer cases across Ripon, and like many, they are desperate for answers.
“We’re looking for anything to prevent cancer and save this community,” Ferrulli said.
After speaking with the Water Board and questioning the lack of Vapor Testing, CBS13 got confirmation Friday, that the Water Board has decided to require Nestle to perform new vapor testing in Ripon.
Case managers with the state say they think it’s unlikely there has been dangerous exposure, but they’re going to require Nestle to do vapor testing out of an abundance of caution to ensure TCE vapor is not contributing to these cancers.