California Sets Nation’s Toughest Tap Water Limit for Carcinogenic ‘Garbage’ Chemical

SACRAMENTO – In a unanimous vote today, the California Water Resources Control Board adopted a stringent, health-protective drinking water limit for 1,2,3-trichloropropane, or TCP, an extremely potent carcinogen that was formerly an impurity in pesticides once widely used in the state’s San Joaquin Valley.

Water utilities in California will now be required to test for TCP and, if needed, install filters to lower the level of the chemical. The new limit is 5 parts per trillion, or ppt – by far the lowest enforceable TCP regulation in the nation. Hawaii’s limit is 600 ppt, and New Jersey state scientists have recommended a limit of 30 ppt, which has not yet been adopted. Although national water testing data show that TCP is in drinking water in 17 states, there are no federal regulations.

“Safe, affordable drinking water should be the right of all Californians,” said Bill Allayaud, director of government affairs for EWG in California. “But for many communities, including some of the poorest in the state, that right was compromised by pesticide companies that knew TCP was a health hazard but kept it in their products.”

“Today’s action by the water board is a major victory for the 1 million Californians whose drinking water is polluted with TCP,” Allayaud said. “This is the best state water board I’ve seen in my 40 years of advocacy in California, and Gov. Jerry Brown deserves great credit for appointing a panel of people who make public health and environmental protection a top priority.”

In April, an EWG investigation documented a decades-long deception on TCP’s hazards by Shell Oil and Dow Chemical. According to lawsuits filed on behalf of dozens of San Joaquin Valley communities, the chemical was an unwanted byproduct that actually weakened the effectiveness of pesticides. One Dow scientist described TCP as “garbage," but the lawsuits charge that the companies left it in pesticides to save the cost of disposing of it as hazardous waste.

Both EWG’s report and the water board’s decision were featured in a lengthy investigative piece on NBC’s Today Show this morning. The campaign to get the state to adopt a legal limit for TCP was spearheaded by the Community Water Center and Clean Water Action.

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