Letter to the Editor

| December 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

Not everyone is on board with using reverse osmosis treated waste water for direct infusion into drinking water reservoirs, in spite of the council’s unanimous vote to do so. RO yes removes thousands of substances from waste water. I have reviewed the test results and see the proof of that. But it is what is not removed that is the concern.

RO does not remove small organic molecules including carburetor cleaner (methylene chloride) radiator fluid (ethylene glycol) or 2,4 D-herbicides used in agriculture to kill weeds. For example the ethylene glycol level in the product water was significant but no mention was made about what to do about it by those in charge of the facility.

On examining the test results, the most problematic of all is the quite high radioactive tritium water levels in the product water. Although the level was somewhat below the EPA allowed contaminant level for tritium, such high levels have never been present in San Diego water ever before, and we have no data on lifetime exposure of tritium water at various concentrations in humans for reference. The reason this remains in the product is because it itself is radioactive H2O that of course cannot be separated from nonradioactive H2O. It cannot be removed even by distillation. To me, it would be better to continue discharging our waste water into the ocean as usual and then RO desalinate the ocean water where at least the tritium water is vastly diluted prior to use.

So the key to whether any wastewater is suitable or not mostly depends on where the water is obtained and what is in it before purification begins. I asked the facility rep if this water could perhaps be the discharge water from San Onofre’s nuclear power plant where massive tons of tritium water were released regularly when the plant was in operation, or could the water come from the Navy yard with its nuclear carrier waste? I got no response, and no discussion at all on what to do about the high tritium levels in the product water that RO cannot remove. I have sent this information to Mayors Sanders and Filner and the city council but no response was provided because they have already made up their minds long ago that the city will go through with this no matter what.

In Orange County, at least the small organics contamination is dealt with because the RO product water is first percolated through the groundwater table before the water finally becomes drinking water. Our city council wants to eliminate this last crucial step and to infuse the RO water directly into reservoirs.

Because these issues have not been addressed, discussed, or even considered at all, I formally oppose using reused waste water for anything other than agricultural or landscape water, not for direct ingestion by San Diegans. I am a native of San Diego, born at Mercy Hospital in 1948, but suddenly I am now happier living in North County.

Lastly, the high quality RO system used by the city removes fluoride ion that citizens have already paid to add into the water at fluoridation facilities (which remains in violation of San Diego municipal code section 67). The RO product water will be re-fluoridated a second time prior to distribution, at ratepayer expense of course. Ingested fluoride accumulates permanently during lifelong consumption in bone and eating fluoride has zero effect on dental caries. The city council has no interest in these facts nor does it have any interest in considering desalination instead of waste water re-use, but this does not detract in the slightest from the facts.

Thank you,

Richard Sauerheber, Ph.D. Chemistry

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