Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/24/2010 06:33:51 PM PST

State and local officials on Wednesday lifted a drinking water ban in Barstow, but the county ratified an emergency proclamation and will continue monitoring the situation over the next 30 days while wells continue to be tested.

High levels of perchlorate, a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel, munitions and fireworks, were discovered Thursday after the Marine Corps Logistics Base near Barstow received results from tests taken from its water distribution system in August.

The results showed that perchlorate levels exceeding the state’s maximum contamination levels of 6 parts per billion were present in three wells, and one well showed perchlorate levels at 100 parts per billion, more than 16 times the state-mandated maximum, officials said.

It prompted the Golden State Water Co., which provides the base with its drinking water, to issue a “do not drink” order across the city, affecting some 40,000 residents. The city and the county activated their emergency operations centers and partnered in distributing bottled water to residents around the clock.

On Saturday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency in Barstow to address the “extreme peril” to residents.

The state Department of Public Health inspected 206 retail food establishments and four wholesale food companies for water contamination. Two wholesale ice manufacturers agreed to recall more than a half a million pounds of ice, according to a report prepared for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

About 1 p.m. Monday, the “do not drink” order was lifted for the western half of the city. About 10 p.m. Tuesday, the county was told that the order had been lifted citywide, with the exception of the Veterans Home of California, said Dan Wurl, county fire chief.

About noon Wednesday, the state Department of Public Health and Golden State Water told the veterans home that its tap water was safe to drink, but instructed employees to first flush the facility’s water pipes and the ice makers and water filtration systems of its refrigerators.

As of Wednesday, the source of the groundwater contamination remained a mystery, and had spread to two private residences.

State water officials on Tuesday took samples from 26 private wells on Soapmine Road, in the vicinity of the public water supply wells that tested positive for perchlorate contamination and spurred the “do not drink order,” said Lauri Kemper, assistant executive officer with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“We went out and sampled private wells to try and determine the extent and nature of the contamination,” she said, adding that a number of residents live on Soapmine Road.

Results from those tests came back Wednesday and showed that perchlorate exceeding state maximum contaminant levels had been discovered in two private wells on River Road, south of Poplar Street. No other wells tested showed perchlorate contamination.

Property owners with wells in the area between the 15 Freeway, the Mojave River, Old Highway 58 and Leona Road will receive notification if their wells have been tested for perchlorate, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps Logistics Base issued a news release saying it began testing wells on the base in 2007 after the state passed its 6-parts-per-billion maximum standard for perchlorate. Wells were tested in August for perchlorate and other chemicals, and the results came back on Nov. 9, testing positive for perchlorate.

Officials at the military base subsequently consulted with the Public Health Department, and a retest was ordered to ensure the detected perchlorate was not a false positive. The results of the retest came back last week and showed the wells had perchlorate levels of 19.7parts per billion, more than three times the state maximum.

To read entire story, click here.