A half century ago, the Santa Clarita Valley was a beehive of industry unhampered by the environmental rules and regulations that would emerge with the Clean Water Act and other pieces of legislation aimed at curbing contamination of air, water and soil.
At one point a record company operated across from the Saugus Café in 1974, but in a search The Signal could not determine if that company was responsible for contaminating the groundwater. And it has been tracking carcinogenic compound at Lang Station and a company which once made PVC tubing.
A check with the California Department of Toxic Substances Friday revealed that the SCV is peppered with sites suspected of contamination including a 32-acre site on the doorstep of Whittaker-Bermite.
And so just as water officials rally to form a state-mandated group to better manage the groundwater in the SCV, another state agency continues to monitor the cleanup of groundwater left contaminated by poor groundwater management years ago.
Since the turn of the century, nearly 1,000 hilly acres in the center of the SCV — later named Whittaker-Bermite — was the place were weapons were made and tested, exploded and burned. So that by the early 80’s, the 996 acres were deemed contaminated.
After three decades of decontamination, cleanup crews are just now addressing the final phase of their operation — cleaning up Whittaker-Bermite groundwater contaminated with perchlorate.
Perchlorate has been shown to interfere with the uptake of iodide by the thyroid gland and to thereby reduce the production of thyroid hormones, leading to adverse effects associated with inadequate hormone levels.
Whittaker-Bermite, however, wasn’t the only place where industry of old contaminated soil, air and groundwater. And, not the only place demanding the constant and current scrutiny of state officials monitoring efforts to clean up those former workplaces.
Just eight miles upstream from Whittaker-Bermite, is the ongoing cleanup of Lang Station — a 64-acre site east of State Route 14 off Soledad Canyon Road.
Engineers who specialize in “restoring damaged environments” recommended to state environmental officials in October that cleanup of the toxic site at Lang Station be extended for another six to nine months after high levels of contaminants were found there last year.
And, like Whittaker-Bermite, they found both the soil and groundwater impacted by those contaminants, particularly volatile organic compounds, carcinogenic PCBs and metals.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary, room-temperature conditions. Many believe they are carcinogenic.
Those same contaminants and, again, particularly VOCs, are being addressed at a cleanup underway on a third site — on the doostep of Whittaker-Bermite.
Jose Diaz is senior project manager for the Department of Toxic Substances assigned to monitor the cleanup of Whittaker-Bermite.
He also monitors the cleanup of 32 acres in the shadow of Whittaker-Bermite where a company called the Keysor-Century Corporation once made PVC tubing.
The property is west of Whittaker-Bermite and east of Railroad Avenue. If you were to continue driving east on Magic Mountain Parkway, through the T-intersection, across the railroad tracks you would end up on the former Keysor property.
Making PVC tubing – the flexible white plastic-like tubing – involves working with vinyl chloride which is identified as a “potential contaminant of concern,” according to the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
And, rightly so. Vinyl chloride is highly toxic, flammable, and carcinogenic.
In making PVC tubing, vinyl chloride liquid is converted to a flake or pellet form, which is then heated and molded into PVC tubing.
Until 1974, vinyl chloride was also used in aerosol sprays, furniture and car upholstery and as refrigerant.
Its adverse health effects have been documented extensively since the 1930’s.
In a 1968 study, two Dow researchers found that exposures as low as 300 parts per million caused liver damage in vinyl chloride workers. The study was called The Correlation of Clinical and Environmental Measurements for Workers Exposed to Vinyl Chloride.
According to DTSC, from 1958 to 2003, Keysor, operated a PVC manufacturing facility on the Property off of Railroad Avenue.
Prior to the construction of the sewer system in 1963, waste was exclusively disposed of into an unlined pond on the east side of its operation.
In January 1974, Keysor was ordered to stop dumping its wastewater into that pond.
In describing concerns about the former Keysor site, DTSC notes on its website that vinyl chloride could affect the Saugus “aquifer used for drinking water supply.”
Engineers at the bequest of Jose Diaz monitored the groundwater less than two years ago, but because of the drought, they found: “All of the shallow wells except for one, at the far end of the site, have gone dry, so there is not much to report.”
They noted, however, that since the wells were dry the “results cannot be considered representative.”
But, as long trace amounts of contaminants continue to be found on site, testing of air and water quality is expected to continue.
The same engineers, however, tested the same groundwater in January 2013, before the drought and found a plume containing vinyl chloride moving into the Saugus aquifer.
They noted that the “TCE plume extends westward, offsite, towards production well Saugus 1.
“It appears that the trichloroethylene (an industrial solvent called TCE) has migrated to the alluvial aquifer, while the Dichloroacetic acid, or DCA, and vinyl chloride are contained within the Saugus Aquifer.”
The possibility of groundwater contamination has been a concern of state officials from the beginning – and continues to be.
In August 2010, DTSC called for an “additional investigation to delineate (whether) groundwater contamination was still required.”
And, over the past seven years, Diaz has received quarterly reports from engineers who test soil, air and groundwater.
Diaz received his most recent report just last month, on March 10.
“There was an additional investigation done after 2010,” Diaz told The Signal Friday.
“The Department of Toxic Substances approved a Site Characterization Report on May 7, 2013, and subsequently approved a Remedial Action Plan on Dec. 17, 2014,” he said, meaning a cleanup plan was approved.
How recent are those cleanup efforts?
A soil vapor extraction system was installed less than a year ago, and has been operating since May 2016, Diaz said.
As for concerns about contaminated groundwater: “Application of the in-situ groundwater treatment was initiated in January of this year.”
In-situ simply means in its original place.
The results of those tests are expected to appear in the next quarterly report.