At least 23 drinking water wells have been contaminated with perchlorate in the San Gabriel Valley, most of which are situated in the Azusa and Baldwin Park area. The first system to clean up the perchlorate was installed in 2001 with four currently in place. These ion exchange technology-driven systems cost more than $17 million to construct and cost about $5 million a year to operate. By 2024, EPA estimates that the cost of cleaning perchlorate out of the San Gabriel Valley groundwater is staggering – more than $200 million to clean the groundwater of perchlorate and other contaminants just at the Baldwin Park water remediation station alone.
ON BARSTOWED TIME
Over 40,000 people of the Mojave Desert town of Barstow learned about perchlorate the hard way in November 2011. The town, which is exactly midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, suddenly became aware of a perchlorate contamination plume that had first been detected from a test on the Soap Mine Road Well which had high perchlorate. For days thousands of people were forced to queue up in long lines for hours to get drinking water that was being hauled into the city on an emergency basis because a number of wells in town used for potable water were testing higher than California’s drinking water limit of 6 ppb for perchlorate.
Investigators for the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board found the source of the perchlorate about a mile away at the private home of a long-deceased man who used to own the Mojave River Pyrotechnics Company. Apparently, after his company went bankrupt in the 1980s, the man buried much of the leftover perchlorate in his back yard on Poplar Lane near the usually dry wash that is the Mojave River.
Perchlorate, which is very mobile and persistent in nature, was eventually mapped out underground with the majority of the goo within an area about 1,400 feet wide and 3,500 feet long. Groundwater, obviously a precious commodity in the desert, was found with perchlorate as high as 110,000 ppb or over 18,000 times the California’s perchlorate drinking water standard. Soil came in at more than 500,000 ppb in the worst hit dumps on the property.
Just cleaning up the soil will cost millions according to the EPA. The groundwater remediation would be a much greater challenge and take far longer.
Perchlorate is also used in missile fuel as an oxidizer and, just like in fireworks, burns fast and hot. That legacy has left aerospace-related sites like Aerojet Chino Hills massively contaminated with the toxin. When LA Weekly exposed perchlorate pollution at the facility in May 2000 followed by OC Weekly, it helped precipitate $46 million worth of cleanup. The property still isn’t fully free of perchlorate, depleted uranium and unexploded ordnance debris and remains a sore spot with a number of residents in the region.
Closer to Los Angeles 35 northwest of downtown is the Santa Susana Field Laboratory which, besides being infamous for being the site of the country’s worst partial nuclear meltdown in 1959, is polluted by perchlorate. Over 30,000 rocket test took place at the 2,850-acre aerospace complex which had gigantic rocket test stands, many of which are still standing today amidst land impacted by perchlorate.
The perchlorate in the fuel fired off testing rockets like the Atlas, Thor and Saturn, left the test stands, buildings, land and groundwater highly contaminated. In 2004, data showed perchlorate in Building 359, on the property now owned by Boeing, as having 34 of 90 samples contaminated with perchlorate so high that they all exceeded “field action levels” where immediate action is mandatory. One sample came back positive for 71,290 ppb of perchlorate.
Perchlorate is a chemical of concern for many Southern Californians because of its widespread fouling of the environment and its effects on the development of the very young and young. These illustrations point to the seriousness of the chemical, especially when large amounts of it are being used in a semi-enclosed space for optional spectacle.
A decade-long struggle over developing Ahmanson Ranch began coming to a head in 2002. There on land bordering Rocketdyne’s southern buffer zone, now-defunct Washington Mutual was on its way to building 3,050 homes in a huge $2 billion development until media pressure forced the company to test its groundwater. “WaMu” had planned to use 660,000 gallons of the groundwater each day to irrigate it common areas, parks and playgrounds.
When one of the wells came back positive with 28 ppb of perchlorate, and Rocketdyne Ranch exposed that and other contamination problems with the property, the public outcry grew and the company begrudgingly accepted an offer of $150 million to give the land to the state which turned it into the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve. It is the largest single public acquisition of land in the history of both Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
SMOKE ON THE WATER
A May 2007 study by the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Oklahoma City made the danger of perchlorate in fireworks abundantly clear. “Perchlorate Behavior in a Municipal Lake Following Fireworks Displays” showed that after a fireworks show, the lake’s water had 24 to 1,028 times the baseline amount of perchlorate. It took 20 to 80 days for the perchlorate concentrations to return to background.
That the perchlorate usage is not listed in the Farmers Field EIR, let alone admitted to, creates another challenge in the EIR: mitigation. Without acknowledging the perchlorate-based fireworks, there can be no discussion of how to mitigate them. Indeed, the EIR says as much.
“There are no feasible mitigation measures that would reduce impacts associated with the parking garage and firework displays to a less than significant level,” the DEIR stated. “Impacts related to fireworks displays would be limited (up to 35 shows per year) and of short duration (up to 20 minutes per display show) but would still be significant and unavoidable.”
Activists say that AEG should have considered going greener with Farmers Field fireworks. “Fortunately, there is a better way to mitigate the amounts you use with ‘green fireworks’ or the lower-emission fireworks,” says Argüello. “That technology is readily available from Disney, as I understand, and that’s what they use. They do very elaborate close to ground level fireworks everyday so they’ve developed where you’re using a lot less of the propellant to get the fireworks into the air which is where a lot of those emissions come from.”
Disneyland holds fireworks shows over 230 nights of the year. Responding to numerous complaints since 1991 to the South Coast Air Quality Management District citing ash, smoke, smell and property damage from falling firecracker shells, Disney switched to compressed air in 2004 to shoot up about 350 shells used per show. By removing the gunpowder propellant, much of the smoke that clouds traditional fireworks shows doesn’t exist making the flashes and pyrotechnics brighter.
In its first year alone, Disney ditched 30,000 pounds of the 90,000 pounds it used in 2003, a significant reduction of a third. The company has offered the use of its compressed-air launch design system to other fireworks-using entertainment centers license fee free.
“[AEG] also needs to look into mitigation measures such as air launch technology that can reduce the amount of perchlorate emitted into the air,” says Lyou. “As an entity that wants to be an environmental leader, I would encourage AEG to take a hard look at this issue as well as other air quality issues associated with their Farmers Field project.”