TORRES MARTINEZ, Calif. - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued an emergency order at the Oasis Mobile Home Park on the Torres Martinez Tribe's lands near Thermal after high arsenic levels were found in the drinking water.
According to a news release by the EPA, the water system at the mobile home park uses groundwater that has naturally occurring arsenic. The system serves approximately 1,900 residents.
Sample results of the water system at the park from 2019 revealed the arsenic levels for drinking water range from 16 parts per billion to 97 parts per billion, according to the EPA.
The Safe Drinking Water Act last updated in 2001 by the EPA sets the regulatory Maximum Contaminant Level for arsenic is 10 ppb. This level "protects consumers from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic."
According to the EPA, arsenic has been linked to numerous kinds of cancers. This includes cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.
Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness.
As part of the EPA's emergency order, the Oasis Mobile Home Park and its owner are required to:
- Provide at least one gallon of drinking water per person per day for every individual served by the system.
- Increase sampling and reporting of arsenic levels.
- Provide a technical review of the arsenic treatment system to analyze the cause of the violations and identify how to correct it.
- Develop standard operating procedures to ensure proper operation of the arsenic treatment system.
- Provide verification that the system has a certified water operator.
The Oasis Mobile Park and its owner faces penalties of up to $23,963 every day that the order is not followed.
"EPA is committed to ensuring everyone, including the Oasis Park residents, receives water safe to drink," said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. "We will continue to work with the drinking water system and the tribe to meet this most basic need."
The EPA says the Torres Martinez Tribe has no direct control or ownership of the water system but they have been consulted about the violations.
"As partners with EPA, we support EPA's enforcement efforts to protect persons living on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation at the Oasis Mobile Home Park, a privately-owned business, from high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in the drinking water," said Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians Tribal Council Chairman Thomas Tortez, Jr.
For more information on the Safe Drinking Water Act, click here.
Local officials sent statements to News Channel 3 reacting to the EPA's order.
Statement from Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia's on the emergency order:
"We are making inquiries to see if and how the state can be of assistance. These prevalent system contamination issues and public health concerns are exactly why I committed to make safe drinking water our top legislative priority of the year. Our success in establishing the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund will provide the funding necessary for water infrastructure projects like those needed in the Eastern Coachella Valley, and we specifically included provisions to ensure that these resources would be available to our Native American tribes. System consolidation with our adjacent water agency may be a viable solution in this instance," stated Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Chair of the California State Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee and coauthor of SB 200 the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund (2019).
Statement from Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz:
"I am alarmed to learn that the EPA is issuing an emergency order to reduce arsenic levels in the drinking water for residents of the Oasis Mobile Home Park," said Dr. Ruiz. "My top priority is the health and well-being of residents in my district, and I will continue to monitor the situation closely and work with local, state, tribal, and federal officials to ensure Oasis Park residents have access to safe drinking water."
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