Local perchlorate bill tweaked into federal bill

An empty dump truck pulls into a soil treatment area to pick up clean dirt from a numbered "cell" as viewed on tour of the cleanup efforts of the Whittaker-Bermite site in Valencia on Wednesday. fileart 101917 Dan Watson/The Signal

A bill introduced last week by Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) that promises to bring more water to the Santa Clarita Valley is hoped to help perchlorate-plagued communities all across the country.

Under the House of Representatives Bill 2116, known as the Perchlorate Reclamation and Water Replenishment Act, the Secretary of the Interior would develop projects with local water agencies to capture, treat and distribute recycled water affected by perchlorate.

The bill is a revamped and expanded version of a similar bill Knight introduced last year but which never found its way to the floor.

This latest bill would assist not only the SCV but communities nationwide living with the same contamination, but would prioritize water districts that have previously taken steps toward solving contamination issues.

Perchlorate is the material the California Department of Toxic Substances has spent years cleaning at the old Whittaker-Bermite site in Santa Clarita.

The contamination has left water from half a dozen water wells undrinkable.

Revamped bill

Knight’s office worked with local stakeholders and the House Committee on Natural Resources “so we could make refinements for this Congress,” Knight staffer Daniel Outlaw told The Signal Monday.

“Our hope, he said, is that this makes the legislation more helpful to a broader set of affected districts so that it can get the support it needs to move forward.”

Although the revised bill is expected to be far-reaching, Knight still points to benefits he hopes will be witnessed here at home.

First attempt

A little more than a year ago, Knight introduced legislation that could have provided water to the Santa Clarita Valley to help offset supplies off-limit due to contamination.

His bill was called The Castaic Drinking Water Act. And, although it was introduced last year it did not move out of committee prior to the close of the 114th Congress.

“While recent rainfall and snowpack melt help lessen the impacts of California’s drought, the reality is that Santa Clarita is still dealing with the water crisis in many ways,” Knight said Monday.

With the missed opportunity last year, Knight saw a chance to expand the act to include other communities across America also forced to remove perchlorate from groundwater.

It was hoped at the time that The Castaic Drinking Water Act would act like a grant, authorizing the Bureau of Reclamation to fund new water supply programs to offset the loss of groundwater due to contamination by perchlorate.

Water off-limits

For up to a decade, more than half a dozen drinking-water wells in Santa Clarita have gone unused because they are contaminated with perchlorate, a potentially harmful chemical improperly disposed of by at least one manufacturing site in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Operations Manger Hassan Amini, left, leads a tour of a soil vapor extraction treatment facility during a tour to view clean-up efforts of the Whittaker-Bermite site in Valencia Oct. 20, 2016. Dan Watson/The Signal

Perchlorate is the material the California Department of Toxic Substances has spent years cleaning at the old Whittaker-Bermite site.  It is a byproduct in the manufacturing of solid rocket fuel.

It has been shown to interfere with the uptake of iodide by the thyroid gland and thereby reduce the production of thyroid hormones, leading to adverse effects associated with inadequate hormone levels.

The Whittaker Corp., which operated for decades in the hills south of Saugus Speedway, made ammunition rounds, boosters, flares, detonators, signal cartridges, glow plugs (used to heat the combustion chamber of diesel engines in cold conditions), tracer and pyrophoric pellets (fragments that spark spontaneously), igniters, ignition compositions, explosive bolts (designed to separate cleanly along a set fracture), powder charges, rocket motors, gas generators and missile parts.

For years, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) worked on legislation seeking adoption of an official nationwide perchlorate drinking water standard.

In October 2007, California adopted a maximum contamination level for perchlorate of 6 parts per billion.

“I look forward to working with members of our community as well as my colleagues in Congress on this legislation, which would help increase the amount of drinking water available to members of the community and allow additions to Santa Clarita’s water infrastructure,” Knight said.

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