Asbestos Possible in California Drinking Water Post-Wildfires

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

A multi-agency cleanup has begun in Sonoma and Marin counties to combat asbestos and other pollutants from affecting the drinking water. After the wildfires, asbestos, metals, plastics, and other toxins were left behind in the burned debris.

With rain in the forecast, officials are concerned these hazardous materials could run into streams, rivers, and eventually the drinking water supply. Sonoma County alone has 617 streams that pass through the burn zones.

Most of the streams flow into the Russian River, which is the primary drinking water supply for Sonoma and Marin counties in California, serving hundreds of thousands of people. It’s also home to fish and wildlife.

HazMat teams from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been carefully inspecting every single home in the burn areas for pollutants. Toxic substances are moved to a temporary storage facility, so the removal of debris can then take place.

Burned vehicles are being taken care of in Santa Rosa’s streets to prevent pollution and the city’s work crews have been placing sandbags and special filters in front of storm drains to prevent pollutants from entering the watershed.

According to the Sonoma County water agency, the drinking water supply is safe, but there will be continuous water quality monitoring throughout the rainy season ahead.

Natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados can cause asbestos exposure and the possibility of the dangerous substance entering the drinking water supply. Asbestos can also enter via asbestos-contaminated pipelines.

For example, earlier this year in Arp, Texas, the amount of asbestos in its drinking water was found to be over the EPA’s maximum contaminant level. At that time, the school district began providing bottled water for drinking and filtered systems for cooking in its schools.

Today, asbestos cement pipes remain a part of Arp’s and a number of other city’s water delivery systems. Those pipes are now starting to reach the end of their useful lifespan. The main risk comes from the possibility of ingesting water contaminated with loose fibers.

Arp isn’t the only city in Texas with an asbestos water concern. Last year, the city of Devine warned its residents of high levels of asbestos present in their water. For apparently close to a year, the levels had been too far above the limit.