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PFAS Still a Concern in Pico Rivera’s Water

City council discussing plans to remediate with Water Replenishment District.

Map showing PFOA levels within WRD boundaries, Pico Rivera (and areas to the north) is the red area in the upper right, indicating higher levels of PFOA. The red scale starts at 10 nanograms per liter and ends at 60 ng/l, state mandated PFOA is 10 ng/l.


BY BRIAN HEWS • February 26, 2021

Chemical remediation was the big subject of the Feb. 9 Pico Rivera City Council Meeting with a presentation by the Water Replenishment District concerning the PFAS levels of the city’s water.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s.  Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.

In May 2016, the federal government issued a lifetime health advisory of 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for the combined concentration of PFOS and PFOA. In February 2020, California established a RL of 10 ng/L for PFOA and 40 ng/L for PFOS.

WRD President Vera De Witt thanked the council for inviting the agency and then introduced  Assistant General Manager Rob Beste to give the presentation.

Beste told the council that WRD has been monitoring the ground water quality in their region for over 50 years with monitors at 300 wells and 55 locations throughout that area, but only ten years ago the agency began testing for PFAS.

Water quality samples are taken twice a year and analyzed for PFAS, all reports can be found online at wrd.org.

Beste introduced a series of interactive color-coded maps that show the PFAS and PFOA levels in the entire WRD area; the map showed high levels in the Pico Rivera area.

Beste was asked by Councilmember Andrew Lara why the levels were so high, Beste responded, “its an area that receives all of its groundwater from other area aquifers, there are no natural filters.”

WRD uses three types of filtering for the PFOA, granular activated carbon filters, ionic exchange, and membranes, which are at the Albert Robles Center, levels have been going down, but remain high in Pico Rivera and areas to the north.

The WRD board recently approved a $34 million remediation fund, with the funding coming from the purveyors and pumpers inside WRD’s boundaries.

WRD wants to take that money and give it to the areas that have problems with PFAS, such as the city of Pico Rivera, who has applied for a grant.

But a potential problem exists in the grant agreement.

WRD is asking anyone who accepts a grant to relinquish any rights to sue the agency in the future.

In Pico Rivera’s case, it will cost upwards of $12 million to remediate the PFAS, and WRD is giving only $4 million.

According to one water agency GM, Orange County’s OCWD is paying 100 percent of remediation costs and 50% of the cost of operations.

Many purveyors and pumpers in the area are not happy about the terms of the agreement.

City Attorney Arnold Glassman spoke up and stated, “these issues are sensitive and important to the city, we were anticipating bringing updates in closed session but there is a number of litigation matters that are sensitive, I need to discuss with City Manager (Steve Carmona) and we can bring it back to the council.”

In other news, the city is in the running for a competitive state grant to complete a major upgrade to Rio Hondo Park, both the facilities and security.

In June 2019, the city conducted five meetings attended by youth and patrons who selected the playground design from three different boards set up by the city. Attendees were able to put dots on their favorite part of the three boards to complete the park.

The city gathered the the  input and put together the playground, and conducted and additional four additional outreach meetings in October and November 2020 to complete the design.

Some of the highlights of the park will be exercise stations, concrete ping-pong tables, a rubberized walking path, bird and butterfly garden, synthetic soccer field, renovation of existing concessions and restrooms, resurfacing the basketball courts, and a new playground. All the plants will be drought tolerant, and the irrigation system will be low use.

Finally, the city extended work on the street lights with Tanko who is upgrading 3,200 streetlights to LED and 581 decorative lights located within the right-of-way (ROW), parks and around community centers. Upgrading the lights to LED will save the city approximately $7.7 million in energy and maintenance costs over the next 20 years.