After three decades of cleaning groundwater and close to 1,000 acres of contaminated soil at Whittaker-Bermite, cleanup officials told a public meeting Wednesday they can “wrap it up in a year or so.”
Speaking at the Whittaker-Bermite Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force Meeting at Santa Clarita City Hall Wednesday afternoon, the clean up’s lead engineer told stakeholders in the ongoing operation that the 996 acres in the heart of Santa Clarita might be clean by the end of next year.
“We are very optimistic – because we are on schedule – that we can wrap it up within a year or so,” Hassan Amini, project manager with the cleanup firm Amec Foster Wheeler, told the stakeholders and about a dozen citizens.
When pressed by Al Ferdman, Canyon Country Advisory Committee Chair, to say publicly how confident he was on completing the cleanup by next year, Amini told him “75 percent.”
“We are making big progress on all points of the soil and water remediation,” Amini added.
Cleaning the contaminated soil, he said, involves the ongoing removal of volatile organic compounds.
“We have 12 (VOC-removing) units at the site, operating at different locations,” Amini said. “And, a number of locations we have completed. Some areas are 100 percent done, others are at 90 percent.”
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.
In terms of extracting harmful perchlorate from the soil, Amini explained that the operation has, in the last year, tripled the number of “treatment areas” referred to as cells which use bacteria to remove the chemical from the soil.
“We’ve perfected that process over the years,” he said about the cells set up to allow bacteria to “eat” the perchlorate.
Where Amec Foster Wheeler used 40 cell areas for soil remediation, it now uses 120 such areas to do the job.
In bringing the team of stakeholders up to date on the cleanup of groundwater at Whittaker-Bermite, Amini said the Saugus
In September, the Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant on Whittaker-Bermite property next to the Metrolink Train Station on Soledad Canyon Road went into full effect cleaning about 150 gallons of groundwater per minute.
It was initially intended that the plant remove perchlorate from the groundwater and discharge the cleaned water back into the watershed.
Lately and temporarily, however, cleanup workers are reusing the cleaned water in the ongoing effort to clean contaminated soil – all with the understanding that once that job is done, cleaned water would be discharged into the watershed.
“We need the water for mixing of the soil nutrients,” he said.
Amini also discussed efforts taken to stop an underground plume of groundwater contaminated with perchlorate leaving the Whittaker-Bermite site.
Groundwater moves east to west following the flow of the Santa Clara River.
A pilot study carried out to stop the flow of groundwater from the site proved successful, Amini said.
Cleanup officials are now waiting for permits from state water regulators that would allow for full-scale implementation of the plan, he said
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.
In April of last year, the only official vision for development of the Whittaker-Bermite area — the only specific plan filed for use of the land — expired.
Called Porta Bella and approved in 1995, that plan allowed for more than 1,200 homes to be built on the site along with schools, parks and nearly 100 acres of commercial property. The plan was conceived before the extent of pollution on the property was realized.
The original business on the Whittaker-Bermite site was called the Bermite Powder Co. and dates to the 1930s. At the time it was built, the location was relatively isolated.
In 1967 Whittaker Corp. bought the site and it was renamed Whittaker-Bermite. Although the property is now owned by another firm, Whittaker — through its insurer — is financially responsible for cleaning it up.
The property was found to contain pollutants including volatile organic compounds, uranium and perchlorate, a salt shown to interfere with uptake of iodide by the thyroid gland. Perchlorate is also found in groundwater in the area.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt