10:00 PM PST on Monday, November 22, 2010

By DAVID DANELSKI and LAURIE LUCAS
The Press-Enterprise

Barstow endured its fourth day of a water emergency Monday, but the city’s mayor said he expects all tap water to be safe to drink by Thanksgiving Day.

An advisory not to drink or cook with tap water — issued Friday after chemical contamination was found — remained in effect in the eastern part of the city, although restrictions had been lifted in areas to the west and north.

People again stood in line for free bottled water, or stocked up at area grocery stores as Golden State Water Co. continued flushing the contamination from its delivery system.

On Monday evening, Mayor Joe Gomez said Golden State is making good progress and should be able to lift all the restrictions by Thursday. The company did not return phone calls Monday.

Golden State, which serves more than 40,000 people in and near Barstow, shut down a well contaminated with the chemical perchlorate, an ingredient of rocket fuel and munitions, on Friday as soon as the problem was detected. The source of the chemical is unknown.

The San Bernardino County Public Health Department issued an advisory Monday to let people know that perchlorate does not cause sudden illness and that it is unlikely the contamination in Barstow affected anyone’s health.

Residents interviewed Monday were playing it safe, however.

Hester McCarty, 60, said she ended up buying bottled water because all the sites offering giveaways were mobbed. “I thought, ‘Heck, I’ll go to the grocery stores.’ ”

She has seven gallons and four cases of individual bottles on hand.

“We usually drink bottled water because we have an older home and a lot of minerals in the tap water,” McCarty said.

As experts advised, she has been taking cool showers to avoid ingesting the chemicals from steam.

Barstow Community Hospital, licensed for 56 beds, was still waiting to turn on the tap as of Monday afternoon.

“We discontinued tap water for cooking and drinking, drained the ice machine and went to all bottled water,” spokesman John Rader said.

“It’s been an operational issue more than anything else,” Rader said. “It hasn’t had a significant impact on patient care.”

Patients had the option of showering or bathing or using baby wipes.

Military Finds Problem

The Barstow area “do not drink” order came after routine tests of tap water at the nearby Marine Corps Logistics Base found perchlorate at levels above the state limit, base spokesman Robert Jackson said.

The base, the city of Barstow and outlying areas all are served by Golden State. The military notified the water company of the elevated contamination, prompting immediate tests of its wells. Perchlorate was found in three of its 20 Barstow wells, although only one of the three was in use, according to a company spokesman.

State law allows no more than 6 parts per billion of perchlorate in public water supplies. All three tap water samples from the Marine base contained more than three times that concentration, Jackson said.

In sufficient concentrations, perchlorate is known to disrupt the thyroid gland’s ability to absorb iodide, needed to make the hormones that guide brain and nerve development of fetuses and babies. It also can be harmful to people with iodine deficiencies.

Perchlorate is an explosive salt used to manufacture rocket fuels, fireworks and other explosives. In the Inland area, groundwater contamination has been tied to pollution from Cold War-era defense plants, munitions storage facilities, fireworks manufacturing and some fertilizers.

Harold Singer, executive officer of the California Water Quality Control Board’s Lahontan region, said his agency will investigate the source of the Barstow contamination. No major perchlorate users are known in the area, he said.

The agency also will look for contamination in unregulated, privately owned wells, Singer said.

Business Not As Usual

Meanwhile, businesses in Barstow, a stop for travelers between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, were suffering.

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