A half century ago, the hills of Santa Clarita Valley were alive with the sweet sounds of disco and the rocking guitar sounds of Peter Frampton as vinyl records were pressed and packaged by the Keysor Century Corporation.
Today, however, the chemical remnants of that time are proving a little less melodic and a little more permanent as the environmental cleanup of the former record company site on Railroad continues.
In 2004, the company was fined more than $4 million by the Environmental Protection Agency for knowingly releasing toxic waste water into the Santa Clara River.
In January, officials with the California Department of Toxic Substances, concerned about the possible migration of the cancer-causing chemical vinyl chloride into the groundwater of SCV’s Saugus Formation aquifer, called for tests to be done on the groundwater.
Groundwater results are expected any day.
And, as state officials wait for the results of those groundwater tests carried out on the former record-making site, one longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident who worked for the company recalls a starkly different environmental world a half century ago and the company’s turbulent transition.
The worker, who did not want to be identified in the story by name, was an employee of Keysor Century’s record-making subsidiary before the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004.
Betty, not her real name, said she stuffed records in record jackets, between shrink wrap machines that packaged the records and machines which pressed the blob of “carbon black” onto hit records.
Some of the records she remembered being pressed included hit records by Elvis Presley, Peter Frampton and many others, she said.
She particularly recalls pressing the 1980 hit Xanadu by Olivia Newton John. “Xanadu” the title song from the soundtrack album of the same name, sung by Olivia Newton John.
But, those were the sweet days.
“I can’t stop coughing,” Betty told The Signal Tuesday in a sit-down interview.
“I remember my doctor telling me at the time, ‘You don’t want to work with that stuff. It’ll cause cancer. I’m serious’ he said. ‘It’ll take lots of years but it’ll give you cancer.’”
Although she does not have cancer, Betty has lived with her persistent cough for 40 years, she said.
She said she remembers the day officials from Occupational Safety and Health Administration visited the record company, concerned about workers exposed to harmful chemicals such as vinyl chloride.
“I asked the OSHA person ‘How much exposure am I getting working beside the shrink wrap machine all day?’ and I asked ‘How many chemicals am I exposed to?,’” Betty said. “They said ‘We’ll get back to you.”
Keysor’s record-making subsidiary, Century Record Manufacturing Company, was a custom label recording company and record manufacturer that set up shop in Saugus in 1958.
According to DTSC, from 1958 to 2003, Keysor, also operated a PVC manufacturing facility on Springbrook Avenue, off of Railroad Avenue, where the records were pressed, packaged and shipped.
Prior to the construction of the sewer system in 1963, waste from the PVC manufacturing and record-making 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, Toxic Substances officials note on the DTSC website that vinyl chloride was the big concern and that it could affect the Saugus “aquifer used for drinking water supply.”
Engineers at the bequest of Toxic Substance Project Manager 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 results of groundwater tests carried out in January are expected to appear in the next quarterly report, the next few weeks.
The last time the Environmental Protection Agency inspected the former Keysor site was just over 10 years ago.
In 2000, it became the subject of a probe by the EPA when its Criminal Investigation Division discovered the firm had knowingly released toxic wastewater into the Santa Clara River, and emitted cancer-causing air pollutants at high levels, while falsifying emission reports to state and federal agencies, according to an EPA news release issued in June 2004.
The company also illegally stored and handled hazardous waste, and maintained its plant in a way that posed a threat of release of hazardous substances.
Keysor Century Corp went out of business in 2003.
A year later, company officials agreed to plead guilty to a series of federal felony charges and pay more than $4 million in civil and criminal penalties and pay restitution for polluting from its Saugus manufacturing facility, as well as lying about its employee’s over-exposure to toxic chemicals, according to the EPA.
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