Community groundwater meeting crashed by Perchlorate, Trichloroethylene, and Perchloroethylene
Half an hour east of Hollywood, the San Gabriel Valley boasts stars of its own, with toxic behavior that would make even Justin Bieber blanch. These celebrities are proud of their role in the contaminating the groundwater used in this valley of two million residents.
Floating in the groundwater and imbued in the soil are toxic amounts of the carcinogenic solvents trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE) and the solid rocket fuel oxidizer perchlorate. These chemicals are so pervasive in Southern California and across the nation that they’ve become stars in The Toxies, a multi-media campaign to promote public awareness about toxic chemicals and health. The Toxies debuted in 2010 as a project of Californians for a Green and Healthy Economy (CHANGE) and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.
The Toxies are the noxious stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow because they are so much a part of our lives and seduce us with their magical qualities. Perchlorate is in rocket fuel and fireworks, TCE is an industrial solvent used to degrease rocket engines, and PCE, also a solvent, is commonly used in dry cleaning. There is a price, however, in that the toxins are in the groundwater that millions of Americans drink and two of them can produce a lethal gas.
TCE and PCE sink to the bottom of groundwater zones but nevertheless vaporize up through the soil and collect in homes and businesses. Thousands of people in Baldwin Park, Azusa and Irwindale living or working over the main San Gabriel Valley toxic plume may be getting exposed to these highly carcinogenic chemicals’ vapors.
Perchlorate won’t evaporate up through the dirt like TCE and PCE, but was in the spotlight in a big way April 3. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announced that the agency and U.S. Department of Justice had secured $1.1 billion in funds to clean up the worst perchlorate mess in the country at Henderson, Nevada along the Colorado River. This is “the largest amount of money ever awarded in a bankruptcy-related settlement for environmental cleanup,” according to the EPA.
But it’s hard to keep dedicated Toxies down, especially Perchlorate, PCE and TCE. The trio oozed into Baldwin Park two weeks earlier on March 22 when they crashed a San Gabriel Valley groundwater contamination gathering held by Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano (D – El Monte). Charging into the meeting room, the Toxies marched towards the podium eliciting nervous chuckles from the baffled attendees.
TCE, a demented Dr. Strangelove-like character clutching a rocket, was followed by debonair mobster PCE and a silver siren with rocket boosters, Perchlorate.
Brassy and unrepentant, TCE took over the microphone and began to alternately amuse and threaten the crowd. His booming voice rattled the room.
“I’ve been linked to Jennifer Lopez – just kidding,” TCE shrieked to laughs. “I’ve been linked to impaired immune system, liver, and kidney damage and even cancer. I am very popular here in the San Gabriel valley.”
TCE has also been very popular at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory 57 miles to the west of Baldwin Park where over 530,000 gallons of the goo has ruined the groundwater. SSFL owner Boeing is showing none of the initiative in cleaning up its polluted groundwater that TCE-source Aerojet in Azusa has. In fact, Boeing is doing nothing to remediate the TCE out of its groundwater having reasoned that the water is so contaminated that no one would be foolish enough to use it, much to the outrage of the majority of the community.
Soon the laughter ebbed away as PCE stepped up to the mike saying he was also a “slick solvent” that was used by dry cleaners and in aerospace activities. PCE is a breakdown product of TCE and causes damage to the human kidneys, liver and reproductive system. And, like TCE, the solvent vaporizes underground and rises through the soil and concentrates in structures above it with toxic results.
“The reason I’m so widespread in the San Gabriel Valley is I’m really tight with those industries that need someone to, you know, break it all down,” PCE said busting a move as the cameras clicked.
Fiery Perchlorate lit up the room as the last Toxie to taunt and titillate the crowd. Perchlorate is literally hot, so hot in fact that it is used to fire up rocket fuel, air bags, explosives and fireworks. Massive amount of perchlorate are released during thousands of fireworks shows every year worldwide.
Discovery of perchlorate at Ahmanson Ranch in 2002 by this reporter helped lead to the downfall of a $2 billion development of thousands of homes and to the subsequent creation of public parkland for $150 million. EnviroReporter.com exposed Boeing’s bulldozing of perchlorate-polluted parts of SSFL in videos in December 2012 showing huge volumes of dust that appeared to blow offsite as well as all over the property the company was supposed to be cleaning so it may become parkland.
Now Perchlorate was explaining why such a comely contaminant could be so damaging to kids and pregnant mothers. “Sure, there’s a price for my rocket-boosting powers,” Perchlorate beamed amidst camera flashes. “I can interfere with iodide uptake into the thyroid gland, so I can cause hypothyroidism in mothers and put a little bit of a dent into childhood development and make it harder for kids to learn.”
Perchlorate’s proud of these harmful effects, as her past appearances at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in 2010 and 2011 prove. This reporter has been repeatedly struck dumb by Perchlorate ever since I met her so it was no surprise that she had the audience’s rapt attention as she showed off her fine form complemented by rocket boosters.
Perchlorate may be easy on the eyes, especially when the fireworks start, but she is expensive afterwards. The April 3 EPA announcement of $1.1 billion being dropped on her removal from Henderson, which is on the Colorado River, will begin to clean the oxidizer out of the water destined for 15 million people. This will be done by getting rid of huge amounts of perchlorate piled up next to the river in addition to the 4,000 tons of the toxin already removed from both groundwater and soil at the site.
“This historic $1.1 billion settlement will result in cleaning up the nation’s largest perchlorate plume and ensuring that 15 million people throughout the West will have access to safe drinking water,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the EPA Pacific Southwest in a press release.
The money to fund the cleanup comes from a total of $5.15 billion charged polluters Anadarko and Kerr McGee “to resolve fraudulent conveyance claims based on allegations that the defendants sought to evade their liability for environmental contamination at toxic sites around the country,” according to the EPA announcement. “Of this total, approximately $4.4 billion will be used for environmental cleanup.”
This sort of news doesn’t usually faze the Toxies. But their exuberance was short-lived at the Napolitano event when a commissioner with the California State Water Commission succeeded in getting control of the meeting back. “Thank you for explaining your properties,” said Adan Ortega to the Toxies when Perchlorate finished talking. “Now good riddance!”
After booting the Toxies out, the meeting continued with a presentation of how the groundwater cleaning Baldwin Park Operational Unit works and what it does. Following a subsequent discussion of bottled water choices for residents, the EPA and San Gabriel Water Quality Authority presented the pathway forward for continued cleanup.
Over $200 million has been spent on the San Gabriel Valley Superfund sites since a March 2002 pact was signed by the eight major responsible polluters and seven water companies. “[This] will result in clean water for approximately 100,000 homes,” says U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its website. “EPA played a key role in the negotiations and in navigating the very complex and contentious issues to formulate a cooperative solution to the groundwater contamination that has plagued the area for more than 20 years.”
The major responsible polluting companies have footed the bill for this cleanup including Aerojet General Corporation, Azusa Land Reclamation Co. Inc., Hartwell Corp., Huffy Corporation, Oil & Solvent Process Co., Reichold, Inc., and Wynn Oil Co.
“The agreement commits the eight responsible companies to fund the design, construction, and operation of the groundwater extraction, treatment, and conveyance facilities needed to satisfy EPA’s cleanup goals and meet local water supply needs,” says the EPA. “The residents of San Gabriel are the true winners since most of the costs of the cleanup will be passed to the responsible parties, not the local water customers. Federal funds earmarked for groundwater cleanup in the San Gabriel Basin are paying some of the costs.”
The EPA says the massive operation in Baldwin Park has “four groundwater pump and treat systems capable of extracting and treating approximately 22,000 gallons per minute, or 32 million gallons per day, of contaminated groundwater. Each of the four subprojects will have a series of treatment processes expected to include air stripping, ion exchange, and advanced oxidation (ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide).”
More than $220 million has been spent on building and operating the four facilities which had treated more than 59 billion gallons of gooey groundwater as of December 2011. Over 52,000 pounds of toxins were removed from the groundwater which varies in depth between tens of feet to 250 feet according to an EPA map at the meeting.
Yet even with the vast and expensive strides government and industry have made cleaning up the toxic mess, EnviroReporter.com has found that thousands of people may be unwittingly being exposed to cancer causing contaminants vaporizing up through the soil and in a popular reservoir’s water. The toxic phenomenon is called “vapor intrusion” or VI in shorthand.
The main plume on display at the Napolitano meeting showed it moving through the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area where public fishing, boating and swimming are allowed.
An intensive investigation through online government sources shows no evidence of any testing for these toxins in the water bodies that make up this popular recreational zone. While copper, lead and the pH of the water are monitored, no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are measured or studied at the site according to dozens of documents analyzed in the process of this investigation.
“Because VOCs volatilize and do not bioaccumulate, they generally are not a concern in surface water that is not ingested,” says Lenny Siegel of the Mountain View, California-based Center for Public Environmental Oversight. That is good news for the swimmers in the Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area though Siegel says the EPA should evaluate the water regardless.
Siegel is one of the environmental movement’s leading experts on vapor intrusion pathways of VOCs. He found that indeed there is some VI investigation southwest of Baldwin Park in South El Monte. A three year EPA investigation, including soil vapor sampling and indoor air sampling there, will be finished in 2016.
TCE’s threat as a deadly vaporous gas has been known for at least as long as this reporter has exposed it, beginning with a February 13, 2003 Ventura County Reporter article Air Apparent. The piece exposed an EPA document that found “TCE is 5 to 65 times more toxic than previously thought when inhaled.”
Siegel’s November 2009 report A Stakeholder’s Guide to Vapor Intrusion further expanded on the vaporous threats of TCE and PCE. “Vapor intrusion refers to the migration of toxic vapors from the subsurface—that is, soil or groundwater—into homes, schools, and other overlying buildings,” Siegel wrote. “[M]any Americans who are potentially exposed via the vapor intrusion pathway do not know about it, and many who know about it do not understand the many complexities involved in assessing and responding to vapor intrusion.”
After a decade of delays, the EPA released findings in its final risk assessment for TCE in September 2011 that found the solvent causes kidney and liver cancer, lymphoma and other negative health effects. The report laid the groundwork for establishing a federal drinking water standard for TCE of 5 parts per billion in water and 1 microgram per cubic meter in air. The study pointed out that TCE exposure isn’t limited to breathing in air in homes. Showering in contaminated water could also cause TCE inhalation.
“In my experience EPA Region 9 generally does a good job of applying the latest science to its vapor intrusion investigations, but that sites where public concern is greatest tend to get the greatest attention,” Siegel says. “If there is community interest I would be happy to come down and do a VI workshop. It’s a topic that is difficult to understand, and sometimes people need help figuring out where they should be concerned.”
None of this bothered the Toxies after they were kicked out of the March 22 meeting held by Rep. Napolitano and the EPA. During a videotaped interview outside the Baldwin Park community center where the conclave was held, TCE told EnviroReporter.com just where to get off.
“This is evolution,” TCE barked at this reporter. “This is 2014. Our bodies are made for this right now. As a matter of fact, they would get sick without them.”
“That’s because we’re carcinogens,” PCE chimed in. “That’s what we do… I cause damage to your liver, to your kidneys, to your reproductive system so you better watch out.”
While the authorities in the San Gabriel Valley have been watching out for the best ways to remediate their gooey groundwater, residents would be well advised to consider where they live over the toxic plumes and whether they should test for vaporizing solvents. Failing that, people over the plumes could use air cleaners to purify their air or at least open the windows for adequate ventilation so the Toxies don’t concentrate in their homes and businesses.
Perchlorate wasn’t fazed by all the talk of vapor intrusion since she doesn’t vaporize up through the soil. Nor was she disappointed by the $1.1 billion cleanup of her dregs in Nevada. Posing with TCE and PCE adjacent the playground next to the community center, she smiled and said with unbridled joy, “I make kids really dumb!” before waving this reporter off.
The inhabitants of the San Gabriel Valley aren’t really dumb as Perchlorate might think. Nor do environmentalists plan on letting the Toxies have the last word in this charming part of Southern California. They want the Toxies out of their lives. The health of their families and workers depend on it.