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article imageTown destroyed in wildfire has cancer-causing chemical in water

By Karen Graham     Apr 19, 2019 in Health
Paradise - Paradise, California was nearly destroyed in November 2018 by the nation's worst wildfire in over a century. The wildfire took the lives of 85 people, but the town's troubles are not over yet. The drinking water supply is contaminated with benzene.
Paradise Irrigation District officials have taken over 500 water samples from various locations around the town and they have found benzene 30 percent of the time, according to CBC Canada.
"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."
About 1,500 of the town's original population are living in the few surviving homes left standing, reports the Mail Tribune. Water officials have warned everyone not to drink, cook, bathe or brush their teeth with tap water and to only take quick showers with warm water. All the town's residents are living on bottled water delivered daily along with water tank deliveries.
Jacob Saylors  11  walks through the burned remains of his home in Paradise  California
Jacob Saylors, 11, walks through the burned remains of his home in Paradise, California
Josh Edelson, AFP
There has been an assessment of the problem, and the water district may be able to clean some of the pipes later this year. But the general consensus seems to be that it will take about two years and cost around $300 million before residents can safely drink, cook or bathe in the water.
Benzene contamination
Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor. It evaporates quickly when exposed to air. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil and gasoline (and therefore motor vehicle exhaust), as well as cigarette smoke. Benzene is used to make plastics, synthetic fibers, and other products.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, cancer of the blood-forming organs. Benzene exposure has also been linked to chromosome changes in bone marrow cells.
Ivy Main (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Officials believe that benzene got into the water supply when the November firestorm created a toxic combination of gases that got sucked into water pipes as people and firefighters were drawing water so heavily. Then, there is all the melted plastic, from water meters to water pipes and other items that also melted.
This same situation happened as a result of a deadly wildfire in Santa Rosa last year. Water officials say the state must work to ensure Paradise's water supply is safe, and now there is something to think about for the future.
"This is really just the beginning here," said Jackson Webster, a Chico State University professor and environmental engineer specializing in the effects of wildfire on water quality. "The fires in Santa Rosa caught people by surprise. Now, it has happened twice. The bells are ringing."
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