Whittaker-Bermite water treatment plant fires up Friday

The view from the top of the Whittaker-Bermite site shows Entrance Valley that includes many old buildings -- some from the munitions factory, others just movie props. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal 07102014

Cleanup officials who have worked more than three decades decontaminating nearly 1,000 acres of toxic Whittaker-Bermite land flip the ‘On’ switch Friday to start the machine that turns toxic water into clean water.

With completed construction of the Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant on Whittaker-Bermite property next to the Metrolink Train Station on Soledad Canyon Road, officials with the cleanup firm of Amec Foster Wheeler are expected to begin a test run of the water treatment plant on Friday.

“Between April 21 and 25 we will conduct series of ‘dry tests’ and ‘wet/pressure tests,’” Hassan Amini, operations manager and principal hydrologist for Amec Foster Wheeler told The Signal Thursday.

“The purpose of these tests is to ensure that all electronics and pumps are functioning properly and the pipes and connections are sealed and function appropriately under pressure,” he said.

Construction of the Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant to remove harmful perchlorate from groundwater at the contaminated Whittaker-Bermite site, next to the Metrolink Station on Soledad Canyon Road, began nearing completion in February.

Cleanup officials had hoped to test the plant last month but postponed the test date until Friday.

Jose Diaz, senior project manager for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, who has been overseeing the cleanup for several years said he will monitor the water treated at the new plant.

“Once the testing period is completed, the water treatment plant will go online and then we will monitor the system to ensure successful treatment of contaminated water is achieved,” he said Thursday.

Although the treated water is expected to be clean enough to drink, the cleaned groundwater will be returned to the ground – and, specifically, the Santa Clara River watershed.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health would be the ones who officially declare the water drinkable.  But, that option is not on the table – yet.

“On a temporary basis, we will be discharging the (cleaned) water into the river,” Amini told The Signal in February.

Amini noted that the discharge of treated water would serve to recharge SCV’s groundwater and replenish natural aquifers which have dwindled as a result of the lingering multi-year drought.

“In the long run, we would like to use that water as a secondary water source at the site,” Amini said.

The Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant is made up of vertical tanks commuters see coming and going from the Metrolink station on Soled Canyon Road.

For up to a decade, more than half a dozen drinking-water wells in the Santa Clarita Valley have gone unused because they are contaminated with perchlorate, a potentially harmful chemical byproduct of munitions manufacturing. The contamination is believed to come from the Whittaker-Bermite site south of Saugus Speedway on Soledad Canyon Road.

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.

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