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[KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands]

EnviroReporter.com analysis – June 2008


A mysterious white evaporate or precipitate was found in Runkle Canyon by Rev. John Southwick and Frank Serafine on March 26, 2008 and given the next night to Norm Riley, Rocketdyne cleanup Project Manager for Cal-EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) which subsequently tested the stuff. More of this evaporate was collected June 10, 2008 and a sample was sent out for additional analysis of the chromium valence ratio and additional tests to “fingerprint” the material, if possible. Those results won’t be available until early July 2008.

The heavy metal numbers derived from just this one sample are revealing and suggest additional sampling and testing should occur including analysis of other potential chemicals of concern. In the DTSC report, it states that “Jose indicates white precipitate is an evaporative salt,” in comments made two weeks before the test results came back.

Southwick, DTSC's Norman Riley and "Fearless Frank" Serafine confer March 19, 2008.
Southwick, DTSC's Norman Riley and "Fearless Frank" Serafine confer March 19, 2008.

That very well may be true. But the test results, and the actual look of the white precipitate, indicate that this may be a widespread distribution of heavy metal contamination that could threaten the groundwater supply of Simi Valley. The data also suggests that there may be threats to human and animal health due to chromium exposure from this evaporate/precipitate. Comments made by a DTSC official in June also suggest that this same “evaporative salt” is also surfacing in Dayton Canyon, which is miles away from Runkle Canyon in the western San Fernando Valley.

The following is derived from the “Rock with White Precipitate” analysis by DTSC dated April 30, 2008. All units are in milligrams per kilogram, or “mg/kg,” and “ND” signifies “non-detect”:

Rock with White Precipitate (MRD0679-01) Other (W) Sampled: 03/27/08 00:00 Received: 04/14/08 13:50

Silver ND
Antimony ND
Sodium 18000
Arsenic ND
Barium 23
Beryllium ND
Calcium 19000
Cadmium ND
Cobalt 8.9
Copper 28
Chromium 1300
Iron 12000

Lead ND
Manganese 220
Molybdenum 19
Nickel 620
Potassium 1100

Selenium ND
Thallium ND
Vanadium 20
Zinc 17

Sample’s results versus California background concentrations in soil

The DTSC results were compared to data found in a report called “Background Concentrations of Trace and Major Elements in California Soils.” This March 1996 Kearney Foundation of Soil Science special report was authored by personnel from the Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Riverside, and DTSC.

“The first comprehensive, scientific database on background concentrations of trace and major elements in California soils has been developed,” the report reads. “Background total concentrations of 46 trace and major elements have been determined in 50 benchmark soils selected from throughout the state. The authors have received numerous requests from industries and public agencies to disseminate this information because it is necessary for environmental monitoring, remediation of contaminated soils, land use planning, and ecological evaluations.”

Several of the heavy metals in the white rocks collected by the Radiation Rangers, and tested by DTSC, were significant. The samples noted below show that this apparent “evaporative salt” contained just 14 percent more sodium, or salt, than average California soil, but the potassium is over 635 times normal. Potassium is similar to sodium but not a salt though it is used as a salt substitute for people who have to monitor and reduce their high blood pressure.

While the calcium content is a negligible 31 percent higher than normal, nickel is early 11 times average, molybdenum over 14 times and iron 3,243 times its average concentration in state soil.

Chromium Canyon

"The Good Reverend John" Southwick collects white precipitate in Runkle Canyon on June 10, 2008.
"The Good Reverend John" Southwick collects white precipitate in Runkle Canyon on June 10, 2008.

The chromium reading of 1,300 mg/kg is over six times the Region 9 — U.S. EPA “preliminary remediation goal” for the heavy metal in soil, a level where no more than one in a million cancers human cancers will manifest from a pollutant. This Runkle material also nearly eleven times normal chromium concentrations in the state.

The Runkle Canyon sample results did not break down the form the so-called “total chromium” consists of. According to an EPA “Hazard Summary” created in April 1992 and revised in January 2000:

Chromium occurs in the environment primarily in two valence states, trivalent chromium (Cr III) and hexavalent chromium (Cr VI). Exposure may occur from natural or industrial sources of chromium. Chromium III is much less toxic than chromium (VI). The respiratory tract is also the major target organ for chromium (III) toxicity, similar to chromium (VI). Chromium (III) is an essential element in humans. The body can detoxify some amount of chromium (VI) to chromium (III).

The respiratory tract is the major target organ for chromium (VI) toxicity, for acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) inhalation exposures. Shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing were reported from a case of acute exposure to chromium (VI), while perforations and ulcerations of the septum, bronchitis, decreased pulmonary function, pneumonia, and other respiratory effects have been noted from chronic exposure. Human studies have clearly established that inhaled chromium (VI) is a human carcinogen, resulting in an increased risk of lung cancer. Animal studies have shown chromium (VI) to cause lung tumors via inhalation exposure.

Establishing chromium standards has been the subject of fierce debate especially since the film Erin Brockovich which centered on the discovery of hexavalent chromium in the groundwater of the tiny California town of Hinckley. Indeed, Cr (VI) has fouled the groundwater underneath the eastern part of the San Fernando Valley including the cities of Burbank and Glendale.

The city of Simi Valley’s August 14, 2007 Tetra Tech analysis of samples drawn from Runkle Canyon surface water found chromium 20 percent higher than the state’s “maximum contaminant level” for tap water. While Runkle’s water is not directly consumed, except by wildlife and when cattle graze there, it does flow downhill into the Arroyo Simi aquifer under the city and then blended with imported water, making up about 20 percent of the mix of what comes out of Simi taps.

The relative amounts of trivalent and hexavalent chromium in the Runkle Canyon white evaporate have not yet been determined. The total chromium reading of 1,300 mg/kg is nevertheless very informative, especially when comparing it to other state’s and nation’s standards that do not exist in California presently. Not all states have chromium standards but the ones that do suggest that 1,300 mg/kg is a considerable amount of total chromium.

Chromium standards in other states and nations

New Jersey’s Soil Action Level for chromium is 100 mg/kg, which the Runkle Canyon sample exceeds by a factor of thirteen. The Soil Action Level for nickel is also 100 mg/kg which the Runkle sample exceeds by more than six times.

New York’s objective for total chromium is 10 mg/kg (or background) meaning the Runkle evaporate is 130 times that.

Kentucky’s objective for total chromium is 21.3 mg/kg (or background) meaning that the sample is 61.03 times that.

Oregon’s soil cleanup levels are expressed as leachate reference concentrations. That state’s goal for total chromium is 10 mg/kg. The maximum allowable amount of chromium for residential soil is 1,000 mg/kghe which the Runkle Canyon sample exceeds by 30 percent.

“Canadian Soil Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Environmental and Human Health – CHROMIUM: total chromium 1997/ hexavalent chromium (VI) 1999” is a set of standards that for land use scenarios, both agricultural and residential/parkland are 64 mg/kg. The Runkle Canyon chromium reading is over 20 times this Canadian limit which also is the same for direct soil contact scenarios. The impacted area is not fenced making contact by hikers and pets possible.

Canada’s soil quality guidelines for hexavalent chromium for agricultural and presidential/parkland are both 0.40 mg/kg so if Runkle Canyon’s chromium reading is from this deadly kind of chromium, Cr (VI), it would be 3,250 times Canada’s limit for the carcinogen.

Rocketdyne chromium concentrations

Runkle Canyon sits beneath 11-acre drainage from Area IV of Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), the site of at least two partial nuclear reactor meltdowns as well as numerous radiation and chemical spills, accidents and dumping. DTSC is in charge of overseeing a cleanup of the site that is scheduled to end in 2017.

A September 2005 analysis called “Soil Background Report, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Ventura County, California — Final” was submitted by the environmental firm MWH for Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy which operated most of Area IV’s facilities, now under order to be remediated to stringent EPA Superfund cleanup standards.

“MWH has proven expertise in global environmental issues,” says the company’s website. “These include water resources, water distribution, drainage and flood control, wastewater treatment, environmental planning, mining engineering, solid waste management, remediation and reclamation, air quality management, aquarium design and sustainability.”

Beginning on page 58 of this 68-page report is “Table 4-6 (1 of 2) Soil Background Comparison Levels for Metals, Santa Susana Field Laboratory.” According to this report, the “Soil Background Comparison Level Value” for Rocketdyne soil is:

Chromium: 37 mg/kg meaning that the Runkle Canyon sample is over 35 times Rocketdyne’s background.

Nickel: 29 mg/kg making it over 23 times the lab’s background comparison level.

Molybdenum: 5.3 mg/kg which is 3.8 times Rocketdyne’s background.

On page 38 of this document is this statement:

If the metal concentration in the investigation unit data exceed the soil background comparison value, further evaluation will be necessary to determine whether site characterization is complete. As discussed with DTSC, this includes evaluating other site information (historical operations, sampling data trends, and risk assessment findings) in a best professional judgement [sic] approach to making decisions regarding additional sampling needs (DTSC 2005).

Indeed, not only are the chromium, nickel and molybdenum Runkle Canyon results from the mysterious white evaporate significantly over the background values on heavily-polluted Rocketdyne, they also trip the Department of Energy’s Preliminary Action Level (PAL) for total chromium in an “industrial” setting, which Runkle Canyon is not. The DOE’s PAL for chromium is 64 mg/kg. The Runkle result is over 20 times this limit even though the DOE standard is for industrial settings which, usually, have less stringent limits than residential and parkland scenarios.

Rocketdyne connection to Runkle Canyon?

Serafine, and his dog Boo, inspect the white precipitate cascading down the hill June 10.
Serafine, and his dog Boo, inspect the white precipitate cascading down the hill June 10.

Do these high chromium, nickel and molybdenum readings indicate that this contamination is oozing off the Rocketdyne site onto and under Runkle Canyon below? Do the Radiation Rangers’ Pat-Chem sampling and tests, as well as the city of Simi Valley’s Tetra Tech analysis which indicate high arsenic, nickel, vanadium, cadmium, barium, chromium and lead in Runkle Canyon’s creek water and soil, provide evidence that this pollution came from Rocketdyne?

Gravity and logic could lead to that conclusion. Indeed, as we reported in “Bubble Trouble” in the July 27, 2007 issue of Los Angeles CityBeat:

Another disturbing aspect to the mystery of Runkle Canyon’s astronomically high arsenic and gooey water is a subterranean fault map that shows a faultline carving through the middle of the Rocketdyne site and leading right down into the canyon. This could account for the polluted seeps that plague the proposed development’s property even during drought years such as this one.

That subterranean fissure is called the Burro Flats Fault and leads through Area IV and Runkle Canyon. This suggests that contaminants from Rocketdyne may have a pathway through the geologic Chatsworth Formation underneath the lab into the canyon and beyond towards the Arroyo Simi its underlying aquifer which waters Simi Valley.

Truth nor Consequences

Unraveling the riddle of Runkle will partially rely on the accuracy of the documents supplied DTSC. EnviroReporter.com has discovered evidence that Boeing/NASA/DOE-supplied documents create questions as to what is accurate in the polluters’ data as it pertains to Runkle Canyon. That would suggest that additional sampling and testing in Runkle Canyon may be necessary to fully investigate the nature of the contamination and its source accurately.

On Dec. 13, 2007, Boeing supplied DTSC with a 199-page “Offsite Data Evaluation Report” that “summarizes and evaluates the results of offsite media sampling and testing data for chemical and radiological contamination collected by Boeing, NASA, and DOE within a 15-mile radius around the Santa Susana Field Laboratory over a nearly 60 year time period.”

“I certify under perjury of law that this document and all attachments were prepared under my direction or supervision in accordance with a system designed to assure that qualified personnel properly gather and evaluate the information submitted,” wrote Thomas D. Gallacher, Boeing’s director of the lab’s Environment, Health & Safety. “I am aware that there are significant penalties for submitting false information, including the possibility of fine and imprisonment for knowing violations.”

However, the report says on 1-18 (p. 37 in the PDF) that “Runkle Canyon and the SSFL do not share a common property boundary,” when maps in the document show that it clearly does. The document goes on to say “No environmental investigations have been performed by Boeing, NASA, or DOE on the Runkle Canyon property” when the map showing toxic trichloroethylene hits in Runkle groundwater is on page 184. The last page of this report combines the two notions by showing the groundwater sampling spot on Runkle Canyon and the common Rocketdyne border and saying, in conclusion, “Offsite sampling sufficient with no data gaps.”

Despite these discrepancies, there does exist information on chromium, including the cancerous hexavalent chromium valence, being used at the lab and polluting several buildings and areas according to June 1, 2008 report “Area IV Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) Data Gap Analysis Report” prepared by CDM for the Department of Energy. [This a huge file that takes a while to download]

On pages 765-782 out of this 793-page report, chromium is listed under places where “Potential/Reported Chemical Use or Release” occurred at SSFL. These locations include:

“Hexavalent Chromium, Chemicals associated with 4003 Leach Field”

“Bag House Including Catch Basin”

“17th Street Drainage Area”

– “Former Industrial Dry Well”

The report shows that chromium contamination is a concern at Rocketdyne. Now chromium contamination has precipitated on the soil surface of Runkle Canyon which sits in an eleven-acre drainage off of SSFL’s Area IV.

Flora and fauna impacted by chromium

Though the results aren’t in on the nature of the Runkle Canyon’s chromium valences, trivalent Cr (III) and/or hexavalent Cr (VI), there is unsettling data that suggests that it could contain the deadly hexavalent variety of the heavy metal.

According to a March 2002 United Kingdom Environment Agency report called “Contaminants in Soil: Collation of Toxicological Data and Intake Values for Humans. Chromium,” there are environmental characteristics of the valences:

Chromium compounds show a wide range of water solubilities, but the general rule is that the trivalent chromium salts are insoluble and the hexavalent ones are soluble.
Systemic toxicity has been observed in humans following dermal exposure to chromium compounds, indicating significant transfer across the skin. A number of animal and human studies of the dermal penetration of chromium have been reported.

The U.S. EPA created a report called “Ecological Soil Screening Levels for Chromium” in March 2005 to quantify at what levels of chromium should prompt further investigation. The 106-page “Eco-SSL” document was revised in April 2008. On page 2, the description of the two valences gives insight into the environments they exist in:

In general, chromium (VI) is favored by higher pH, aerobic conditions, low amounts of organic matter and the presence of manganese and iron oxides which oxidize chromium (III). Transformation of chromium (VI) to the trivalent form tends to occur in acidic, anoxic soils with high organic content. Chromium (III) is cationic and adsorbs onto clay particles, organic matter, metal oxyhydroxides, and other negatively charged particles in contrast to chromium (VI) which does not interact significantly with clay or organic matter. As a result, chromium (VI) is more water-soluble and mobile than chromium (III).

Runkle Canyon soil contains low amounts of organic matter and the DTSC-tested white precipitate had extremely high levels of iron.

This same EPA report lists Eco-SSLs that show that the Runkle Canyon chromium, regardless of valence, could present a threat to plant and animal life.

Notably, the EPA Eco-SSLs indicate that trivalent chromium seems more dangerous to avian and mammal life than hexavalent chromium. The opposite is true as it relates to humans. For example, the mammalian Eco-SSL for Cr (III) is 34 mg/kg while the standard for Cr (VI) is 130 mg/kg. The Runkle Canyon white evaporate sample, if completely Cr (III), is 38.24 times over this limit while the Cr (VI) is 10 times over meaning the hexavalent chromium is a quarter as dangerous to mammals than the trivalent form.

Following is a list of species-specific Eco-SSLs for both trivalent and hexavalent chromium. The amount of related exceedances in the Runkle Canyon sample follow the numeric limits and are bolded.

P.9/106: Table 5.2 Calculation of the Avian Eco-SSLs for Trivalent Chromium

Avian herbivore (dove): 78 (16.66 times over Eco-SSL)

Avian ground insectivore (woodcock): 26 (50 times over Eco-SSL)

Avian carnivore (hawk): 780 (1.6 times over Eco-SSL)

P. 16/106: Calculation of the Mammalian Eco-SSLs for Trivalent Chromium

Mammalian herbivore (vole): 380 (3.42 times over Eco-SSL)

Mammalian ground insectivore (shrew): 34 (32.23 times over Eco-SSL)

Mammalian carnivore (weasel): 180 (7.22 times over Eco-SSL)

Calculation of the Mammalian Eco-SSLs for Hexavalent Chromium

Mammalian herbivore (vole): 1400 (92% of Eco-SSL)

Mammalian ground insectivore (shrew): 130 (10 times over co-SSL)

Mammalian carnivore (weasel): 870 (1.49 times over Eco-SSL)

Runkle Canyon is home to seven species of hawks which, according to these numbers, may be threatened by the levels of chromium in Runkle Canyon’s white evaporate. The specifically noted animals listed above that are confirmed to live in Runkle Canyon include ring-tailed weasels and doves which would also appear to be impacted at these levels, though no definitive study has been made regarding the canyon’s wildlife and chromium.

Here, there and everywhere – chromium precipitate in Dayton Canyon?

In a July 22, 2004 Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat cover story entitled “Two Mile Island,” we wrote about a development in the eastern San Fernando Valley, on the opposite side of Rocketdyne:

Another development in the works is Dayton Creek Estates, which is a mile downwind from SSFL in Los Angeles County. One hundred and fifty single-family homes are planned there on 64.2 acres out of the development’s 359.4 total acreage. Dayton Creek runs through the project and is fed by SSFL’s Happy Valley drainage, which has undergone massive excavation due to perchlorate contamination. The project’s 1999 Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), fully aware of SSFL’s proximity, doesn’t note impacts on the development from SSFL in its “areas of controversy” section. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) estimates that 69 million gallons of discharges, from SSFL rocket engine tests alone, go down Dayton and an adjacent creek every year. The developers do note, however, that the FEIR is not a “definitive investigation of contamination.”

At the June 19, 2008 Santa Susana Field Laboratory (Rocketdyne) Workgroup Meeting in Simi Valley, a resident spoke during public comment about what he had found a three weeks earlier in Dayton Canyon. Dave Carey who lost a brother to cancer that he blames on Rocketdyne’s pollution, said that he saw a mysterious white evaporate, including white rocks, all along the upper reaches of the creek running through the property, some of which he had collected and had in his car outside in the parking lot. He wanted to know what this new stuff was and if DTSC would test it.

“I’m not sure how this wetness came about – there hadn’t been a rain since March or February” Carey said according to Adam Salkin who filmed the meeting and transcribed excerpts of it for EnviroReporter.com. Carey said that the rocks he found at Dayton had a “fresh salt” on them in the creek bed.

“This is Dayton Canyon – it’s a fresh salt and I’m more than willing to show you guys where this is. I had an emergency room doctor who accompanied me on this hike and saw this salt. My mother was there who saw this salt. I have it right here in my car in a box. Why isn’t the DTSC sampling this and how come other previous samples that I’ve given to your staff weren’t sampled to find out what this salt is?”

Jim Pappas, DTSC Chief of Northern California Permitting and Corrective Action Branch, sitting in on the Workgroup panel for Norm Riley, dismissed Carey’s concern yet what he said suggests what is in Runkle Canyon is in Dayton Canyon too.

“I’m familiar with your request about the salts, and we have sampled the [unintelligible] salts found on the rocks of Dayton – and the concern was…we looked for it for perchlorate and the samples for perchlorate came up “non detect,” Pappas said. “We were in Runkle canyon and observed a similar kind of salt – a crystal on the rocks there too, and um…had it analyzed and although they were different drainages obviously we checked the precipitate salt and found that it wasn’t a problem to public health.”

“I’d be more than happy to share with you the analytical results of our previous investigations,” Pappas continued. “In Runkle there were some metals and some calcium and other salts but it wasn’t uh… we didn’t find it a problem for public health.”

“I nearly fell out of my seat when I heard Carey say that he found the same thing in Dayton Canyon that we did in Runkle Canyon, which is miles away on the other side of Rocketdyne,” Rev. Southwick told EnviroReporter.com after the meeting. “But what really upset me was Pappas just dismissing the finding out of hand and saying the substance was some harmless stuff no one should be concerned about.”

“While it is laudable that DTSC would test the rock with white precipitate out of Runkle Canyon and then give the Radiation Rangers the results, it is unfathomable that these folks didn’t see that the stuff has so much chromium and is obviously not natural — just look at it!” Southwick said. “I am completely discouraged because we have so much faith in Norm Riley. That chromium has to be broken down to see what it is exactly. And with what the Rangers and the city found last year with the arsenic and heavy metals, DTSC has to take this stuff as seriously as we do and get the science right.”

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