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Morgan Hill
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October 16, 2021

More questions than answers on perchlorate

Against a backdrop of news that the perchlorate plume has spread
further than originally thought and that one-third of San
Martin-area wells tested so far have potentially dangerous levels
of the chemical, Santa Clara Valley Water District held a public
forum on the issue Wednesday night.
Against a backdrop of news that the perchlorate plume has spread further than originally thought and that one-third of San Martin-area wells tested so far have potentially dangerous levels of the chemical, Santa Clara Valley Water District held a public forum on the issue Wednesday night.

Not surprisingly, an overflow crowd of more than 800 people packed San Martin Gwinn Elementary School auditorium to vent, ask questions and hopefully find reassurance.

News that perchlorate, a chemical used in the manufacture of road flares, automobile air bags, fireworks and rocket and missile fuel has leached into the ground water south of Morgan Hill, has understandably unsettled residents, who worry about possible health effects, especially thyroid function problems and thyroid tumors from exposure to the chemical.

It was a wise and brave decision to hold that meeting, and we commend the water district for taking the step. All the stakeholders except Olin Corp., whose former road flare manufacturing facility at Tennant and Railroad avenues in Morgan Hill is likely the cause of the perchlorate contamination, and who was asked not to send representatives, were present. Those in attendance included water district, county health, county agriculture, regional water quality and federal EPA officials and hundreds of residents. They were able to begin an important problem-solving and learning process about the frightening issue.

We’re glad to hear that the district plans to hold another public meeting on the perchlorate contamination in the near future mid-April was suggested, but perhaps that’s not soon enough. We were less than pleased to learn that a lawyer touting plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Olin was busy distributing letters and cards to worried residents.

So far, Tennessee-based Olin has behaved in a responsible manner owning up to its role in the well contamination, paying for bottled water and well testing – and it’s important to remember that there will be no one to turn to for reimbursement of cleanup costs if the company is hounded into bankruptcy.

In the meantime, the water district needs to correct a mistake: it needs to immediately reopen the perchlorate hotline, which it established shortly after the perchlorate news broke. The hotline was closed recently and too soon. Residents in the perchlorate plume zone need an easy, red-tape-free means to contact the water district, and perchlorate hotline was a great way to accomplish that.

District officials also need to be liberal in agreeing to test wells outside the suspected perchlorate plume zone. There have been anecdotes floating in the community of residents near the plume requesting well tests and stories that some of those requests have been denied. The well testing is not costing the water district a penny. Olin is picking up the tab. With news that the perchlorate has spread much farther than originally thought, district officials should err on the side of too many tests when reviewing well test requests.

Finally, a reminder for San Martin-area residents: please don’t panic. Fear and worry are understandable, but panic will not help the situation. It won’t speed cleanup, which is the goal everyone, county supervisors, water district officials, the EPA, residents and Olin Corp. should be working together to achieve.

More on the perchlorate water contaminations is on page A1 of today’s edition.

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