Is Your Water Supply Safe? Contaminants Identified in San Angelo’s Water

When turning on the faucet, you should never worry whether the tap water is safe.

That’s not the case in San Angelo, Texas, where health officials recently issued a safety advisory instructing city residents not to use the water after chemicals were discovered contaminating the supply.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that the water, which smelled like chemicals or mothballs, was contaminated with benzene, acetone, naphthalene and other chemicals consistent with industrial production.

“They’re not something you’d expect to see in drinking water,” Earl Lott, deputy director of the office of water for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told the Texas Tribune. “No amount of those is acceptable.”

The EPA limit for benzene in water is 5 micrograms per liter. The state’s first tests of San Angelo found benzene concentrations ranging between 17 micrograms per liter to as high as 177 micrograms per liter — 35 times the legal limit. Lott said there is no EPA standard for the other contaminants. Naphthalene concentrations were found in one test to be as high as 141 micrograms per liter, according to data from the TCEQ.

“I sort of thought it smelled like propane gas,” San Angelo resident Kinley Hurt Briseno told the Texas Tribune about the water in her home.

She’s a mother of two young children and became concerned about her family when her husband took a shower and said he felt nauseous. She felt sick, too. They ended up leaving the West Texas town to stay with family.

What is Naphthalene, and Is It Dangerous? 

Naphthalene is a hydrocarbon with a strong mothball odor, according to the National Library of Medicine. Naphthalene occurs as a white solid or powder that is insoluble in water. It is found in coal tar or petroleum distillation and is primarily used in plastic manufacturing and to make resins, fuels and dyes. It is also used in moth repellants and as an insecticide. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, most products that contain naphthalene are used to control moths in airtight containers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists naphthalene as a possible human carcinogen, citing a study that found the compound causes cancer in lab rats. It may be associated with a higher risk of colorectal and laryngeal cancers. Inhaling naphthalene can cause nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. In some cases, exposure to large amounts can cause anemia. Ingesting naphthalene can cause kidney damage.

Health Risks of Acetone & Benzene Exposure

As for acetone and benzene, the two compounds are both colorless and flammable. Acetone occurs naturally in plants and as a breakdown of body fat and is used to make plastics, fibers, and other chemicals, according to the EPA. Acetone is also used to make products like nail polish remover and paint remover. While it is a widely used product, the potential negative health effects are skin, eye and lung irritation. Long-term exposure can result in dry, cracked skin and possible damage to the nervous system.

Benzene is found in crude oils and as a byproduct of oil-refining processes and is most often used in the synthesis of numerous chemicals. Benzene is a known human carcinogen. It has been linked to an increased risk of lymphatic and blood cancers, acute myelogenous leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

The cause of the San Angelo contamination in February is still under investigation. But, according to city and state officials, the source is likely an industrial company connected to the water system. Water may have flowed into an industrial plant, mixed with dangerous chemicals there, lost pressure, and ran back out into the water supply, where it infiltrated nearby homes.

Local health authorities issue a do not drink water advisory when your community’s water is, or could be, contaminated with harmful chemicals and toxins, and when boiling water will not make it safe. Authorities may recommend limited use of tap water for some tasks, depending on the harmful chemical or toxin contaminating the water. Do not drink or use water from any appliance connected to your water supply lines. This includes the water and ice dispensers in your refrigerator, freezer and dishwasher.

How We Help Victims of Toxic Exposure

The attorneys of our birth defects victims alliance understand the pain that families face when coping with life-altering birth defects—and the frustration of knowing they could have been prevented. Our team has over 30 years of combined experience in birth defects litigation in cases involving toxic exposure. We have the resources and experience to fight on behalf of our clients against corporations who put them in danger. Contact us to see how we can help you and your family receive justice for birth defects.