KETTLEMAN CITY (KPIX 5) — Think Flint Michigan’s water crisis is bad?

Consider Kettleman City.

The Central Valley town’s residents have been living with arsenic-tainted tap water for decades. A KPIX 5 investigation in May found travelers on I-5 may also be drinking it when they stop for fast food. Has anything changed? We decided to check it out.

PART 1: California Town’s Water Tainted with Arsenic for Decades

PART 2: Kettleman City Residents Living With Water Tainted with Arsenic

“We are only serving canned beverages” reads the sign on the soda fountain at Taco Bell in Kettleman City, a popular pit-stop for travelers on Interstate 5. It’s closed because of a KPIX 5 investigation into the town’s tainted drinking water. It’s contaminated with arsenic, a known carcinogen.

The water is so bad residents are forced to drink bottled water, delivered twice a week. Still, at local restaurants the ice and the water used to mix sodas comes from the tap. Samples we took at Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr. and In-N-Out came back well above the EPA maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per billion.

KPIX5’s investigation led the restaurants involved to improve their filtration systems. In-N-Out’s arsenic level is down to 10 parts per billion. The water at Carl’s Jr. had no trace of arsenic at all. A new sample taken for the first time at McDonald’s came back at 19 parts per billion.

Meanwhile, residents of Kettleman City are still forced to cook and bathe with the tainted water day after day, month after month and year after year.

“It’s just a travesty of justice,” said Bradley Angel with the environmental group Greenaction . He has been leading the fight for change in the community for decades.

“You know Flint, Michigan has had toxic water for a few years. People of Kettleman City have had toxic water for decades. And it appears to me and to a lot of the residents that simply put, our government couldn’t care less,” said Angel.

A treatment plant that will allow the town to tap into the nearby California aqueduct for clean water is still years away, even though the state has pledged $8 million dollars to fund it.

An endangered lizard stands in the way, and now there are even more obstacles.

“They have to pay their water bill for toxic water and if the clean water becomes reality they will have to pay increased water rates,” said Angel.

That is something many people in Kettleman City will not be able to afford.

In a statement to KPIX 5 from Jim Abbate, who owns the city’s McDonald’s restaurant said, “Serving safe, high-quality food and beverages is our top priority. We are handling this situation with the upmost care, and ensuring our customers and employees in kettleman city are safe.”

Comments (2)
  1. Mike Locke says:

    High toxic contaminant levels are common in private well water throughout California. Private well water is commonly declared fit to drink if it tests negative for Ecoli. That is, with no tests for toxins. It would be more interesting for investigative reporting to focus on the extent of the issue, the severity of the issue, and practical solutions.

    Common natural toxic contaminants found in California well water include: Arsenic, Uranium, Radon. All of these are carcinogens, but can cause other health problems as well.

    The severity of the problem is unknown because private wells are protected by law from publication of such information. However, the use of private wells for small business water is allowed. Testing for the full range of common toxic minerals in water costs about $1000.

    For drinking and cooking water the Uranium and Arsenic levels can be reduced dramatically relatively inexpensively with reverse osmosis water treatment. This is far more economic than importing water from another source. Uranium can also be removed on a whole-house basis by a water softener-like Uranium ion exchange unit. Radon gas can be reduced using aeration or by storing the water for several days. Uranium and Arsenic are harmless in water for other uses; they are not absorbed through the skin and do not become air born. Radon can be a problem when it is encountered in very high levels in water (greater than 10,000 pCi/L) because it can become air born and is a major non-smoking cause of lung cancer.

    It should also be noted that occasional consumption of water containing 19PPB Arsenic is unlikely to cause adverse health effects. The 10PPB EPA limit is based on the contaminated water being the only source of water for all forms of consumption for an individual.