SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The city of San Diego is now conducting a review of a common pipe repair process after 36 students fell ill near a construction site.
On Thursday, workers with Southwest Pipeline Trenching Corp., contracted by the city were installing a “styrenated resin” into a water main under Casey St. adjacent to Zamorano Elementary, according to Alec Phillipp with the city’s communication department.
Such resins are often used in what’s known as “cured-in-place pipe,” also called CIPP. It’s become a popular pipe repair technology that can seal old pipes without digging them up.
On Thursday, Phillipp told reporters “the material being used was not hazardous.” Further emphasizing, “there’s no reason to believe this was hazardous.”
When asked if the city planned to investigate what happened he said, “at this time we don’t have any plans for that.”
But after 10News began investigating on Friday, Phillipps said the Public Works Department would conduct a full investigation “including a detailed investigation into the materials being used by the contractor.”
He also said they would review their current standards that govern how pipelines are replaced “to ensure that any continued work does not pose a risk to the public.”
The inquiry from 10News was prompted by a recent study by Andrew Whelton, a professor at Purdue University.
The study found that “CIPP installation activities have caused ambient and indoor air contamination incidents, but the types and magnitudes of materials emitted have received little scrutiny.”
While San Diego said they have never had an incident with CIPP before, Whelton has compiled a list of 49 similar incidents in the US and ten outside the country.
“What we discovered is the materials being emitted from CIPP sites went against many of the assumptions that have been claimed about the technology for years,” he said in a video posted on Youtube. “That white stuff isn’t just steam.”
California does not keep a list of CIPP incidents in the state, but clearly, officials are aware. In July the California Department of Public Health issued a Safety Alert about the process.
The alert recommended that crews provide information to residents before starting constructing. It also recommended controlling emissions near schools “to avoid exposure to mists.”
It’s unclear what, if any measures were taken by Southwest Trenching to divert the emissions from the school. City officials blamed the exposure on the wind.
Still, the state stops short of blaming CIPP for any large-scale health problems. In a statement to 10News, a CDPH spokesperson said “more studies are needed to understand potential exposures to workers and the public.”