News Release

California Fires Threaten Melted Plastic Pipes and Water Contamination

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported: “CZU [Santa Cruz County] fires’ aftermath points to emerging threat for California: water contamination.”

Michael Dorsey is a leading environmentalist who has been warning of this problem for years.

MICHAEL K. DORSEY, mkdorsey@aya.yale.edu
Dorsey, sits on the board of the Center for Environmental Health, headquartered in Oakland, California. For Fall 2020 he is the global affiliate of the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont.

He recently wrote the piece “We Can Still Win the War on Plastic,” which states: “Across the United States, melted PVC piping destroyed by intense fires has long threatened communities by exposing groundwater supplies to a litany of carcinogens and poisons, from benzene to toluene and much more. Analysis by municipal authorities following the catastrophic 2017 Tubbs fire that destroyed over 3,000 residential and commercial buildings across California found that ‘Benzene was detected at levels above the allowable regulatory limit (Maximum Contaminant Level, MCL)’ in local drinking water. …

“The heat from the August 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains melted a 7.5-mile-long plastic water pipe. The pipe was part of a water system, and an official for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District said that ‘They found that there was a lot of water quality contamination from that melting plastic. The polyethylene put out volatile organic chemicals, benzene. So those are concerns that we are monitoring and we will be sampling for.’

“It could take months to determine the full scope of the damage, but one thing is certain: People returning home after evacuating may very well find themselves without certified clean, fresh water to drink. The 2018 Camp fire, which similarly melted plastic pipes in Paradise, California, forced residents there to rebuild their entire water distribution system due to widespread contamination by toxic chemicals like benzene.

“We’ve been fighting the war on plastic for decades, and at times, it can feel like we’re losing. Big Plastic is a global behemoth — consistently misleading consumers and communities with industry-backed ‘studies’ and corporate-funded ‘research.’ Its latest ploy, led by major oil companies, is to ‘flood Africa with plastic’ since it can no longer send plastic waste to China.”

In 2018, Dorsey wrote the report: “Our Health, PVC, and Critical Infrastructure.” He also recently wrote the piece “Renewables’ potential depends on transparent and fair policies, not special interest giveaways.”