Turning great ideas into healthier communities


Fire and Water Study: Drinking Water in the Area Affected by the Camp Fire

October 01, 2019

Fire and Water study logoProject summary
Led by PHI's Gina Solomon, the Fire and Water Study aims to measure drinking water contaminants in household tap water in homes affected by the November 2018 Camp fire in Paradise, California. The study is designed to answer three research questions:

  1. What are the benzene and other volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations inside homes? 
  2. Are there other contaminants, whether regulated or non-regulated, in the water system?
  3. Are there clues to the source of the contamination?

The goal of the study is to collect information that will inform the recovery in the Camp fire zone, while also helping to prevent future drinking water issues after wildfires.

The Camp fire in November 2018 burned the towns of Paradise and Magalia, California, and nearby areas, destroying nearly 14,000 homes but leaving about 1,700 standing homes. Returning residents have reported odors and an unpleasant taste in the drinking water. Testing by the local utilities has identified benzene and other VOCs in some parts of the public water distribution systems. To date, there has been very little testing of water inside homes. More extensive testing at the tap and for a wider range of chemicals may provide new information to better understand the potential sources and extent of contamination.

Project activities and timeline
This year-long study will be conducted in two phases. In Phase 1 (October-November 2019), the study team will collect tap water samples from about 175 homes served by the two water utilities. The water will be tested for over 120 VOCs, including benzene. Residents of these homes will also participate in a survey focused on drinking water and health symptoms. At the end of Phase 1, study participants will receive their individual test results, and a community meeting will be held to provide updates and share initial summary results.

Phase 2 (November 2019- May 2020) will involve additional sampling at about 20 homes with the highest VOC levels from Phase 1 testing. The water will be tested for a much larger number of chemicals, and samples of the air indoors will also be taken for testing. At the end of Phase 2, participants from these homes will receive their individual results, and the final study results will be shared at a community meeting and through scientific publications.

Partners and funder
The Fire and Water Study is being implemented in collaboration with researchers at UCSF, UC Davis, and PHI’s Tracking California. Laboratory analyses will be conducted by BC Laboratories, UC Davis, and the EPA National Exposure Research Laboratory. The study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R21ES031501.

Program contact
If you are interested in becoming a study participant or have other questions, please contact:

Gina Solomon, M.D., M.P.H.
Principal Investigator

Study Materials

Camp fire investigation informational flier

Download a PDF of the flier here.

In the News
See selected coverage of the study in The Oroville Mercury-Register, Bloomberg News and KQED.

Related Links