THERMAL -

Highly toxic levels of arsenic have been found in eastern Coachella Valley water systems.

Trailer park residents in unincorporated areas have the most to lose, officials said.

Many of them are paying high water bills for water environmental officials caution against drinking -- letalone using to bathe.

Local leaders held a community forum in Thermal Thursday and discussed solutions to the problem.

Some residents in Coachella, Thermal, Mecca, Indio -- forced to use the highly contaminated water -- are paying high water bills for something they can't even drink.

Second, if they do drink it, officials said, over a long period of time residents are at risk of developing cancer.

Teresa Martinez' parents lived in the Sunbird Mobile Home Park in Thermal for 10 years.

"My father is sick," said she said. "My mom too."

Martinez had to move them out because water rates were too high and the water was too dangerous.

"I think the arsenic is something that caused their health [problems]," said Martinez.

Her parents were forced to purchase bottle water which on top of a water bill can become extremely expensive.

"Why pay money when you can't use the water," she asked.

"Kids are drinking this," said Manuel Perez, an assembly member who hosted the forum. "Folks are bathing in this, and my concern of course is quality of life for all our constituents."

Many mobile home parks provide water through private wells.

But according to assembly member Perez, 24 permitted water systems in the east valley exceed the maximum containment levels for arsenic.

There could also be more than 100 un-permited systems exceeding those levels, he said.

"Much of this is naturally occurring," explained Perez. "It's the rock. It's the dirt, and the water."

"We'd like to build more systems to service these areas, but there's not enough money to do it," said Peter Nelson, a spokesperson for the Coachella Valley Water District.

Nearly 100 residents showed up in Thermal for a community forum. They asked questions, and explored solutions to the problem affecting thousands.

"The further you move east, the less developed water infrastructure there is," said Nelson.

The installation of water filters are a logical short-term solution, according to Perez. He's introduced a bill, currently in the state senate, calling for funding.

"I mean for example, a filtration system on your faucet," he said. "That's what i'm talking about. a filtration system on your shower head."

"It's serious," said Nelson. "There is a standard out there. We need to protect the residents of the Coachella Valley."

For more information, please contact Assembly Member Manuel Perez at 760-342-8047.