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Environmental Enforcement Roundup: DOE Settles with Calif; Waste Facility Fined $600,000; Phoenix Groundwater Controversy

Environmental Leader’s daily roundup of key environmental enforcement news

California Reaches Cleanup Agreement with DOE

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Energy for the cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) property in Simi Valley, Calif., DTSC announced (pdf).

Negotiations have been ongoing for several years, and more than 1,700 public comments supporting the “agreements in principle” between the agencies were considered.

A final draft agreement is now available for public comment until November 22, 2010. Unless there are significant new comments that require further study, a final agreement will be executed on December 6.

The “agreement in principle”, which formed the substance of this final draft agreement was made available for public comment in September 2010. The agreement in principle provided the framework for the final draft agreement announced today. It meets the stringent environmental

standards set by California and embraces an accelerated clean up approach. DOE requested this additional comment period to give interested parties the opportunity to review the final agreement.

“This final draft agreement meets the high bar we have set for the SSFL property cleanup and reflects the public comments we have received,” said Linda Adams, Secretary for the California Environmental Protection Agency, of which DTSC is a part. “We recognize this is a significant breakthrough, and applaud DOE for stepping up.”

“We believe this agreement to clean up to background levels will ensure protection of human health and the environment,” said Dr. Ines Triay, Assistant Secretary of Environmental Management at the U.S. Department of Energy. “We appreciate the commitment of Secretary Adams and her team to moving this process forward successfully. The Department looks forward to reviewing the public comments, executing the agreement by December 6th and getting on with the work of cleaning up the site.”

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory was a complex of industrial research and development facilities located on an isolated 2,668 acre portion of  Simi Valley.  The facility was used mainly for the testing and development of liquid-propellant rocket engines for the U.S. space program from 1949 to 2006,  The site also housed nuclear reactors from 1953 to 1980 and the operation of a U.S. Government-sponsored liquid metals research center from 1966 to 1998

In recent years, the site was the subject of several lawsuits concerning groundwater contamination, and exposure of local residents to toxic chemicals.

Comments concerning the draft agreement can be submitted through November 22, 2010 at: ssfl@dtsc.ca.gov

Sacramento Waste Storage Facility Fined $600,00 by DTSC

A Sacramento area hazardous waste storage and treatment company was assessed $600,000 in fines for hazardous waste storage violations that posed a risk to the environment, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) said in a press release on October 26 (pdf).

General Environmental Management of Rancho Cordova, LLC (GEM) violated conditions of its permit and state hazardous waste law, according to DTSC which issued the fine.

According to DTSC the violations occurred for more than 24 months from December 2006 through March 2009, which contributed to the unusually large fine.

“The large volume of waste and unauthorized storage of hazardous waste at the facility put public health and the environment at risk,” DTSC Acting Director Maziar Movassaghi said in a prepared statement. “We expect those companies in the business of managing hazardous waste to meet all applicable protective requirements and to operate within the constraints of their permit. DTSC will continue to hold hazardous waste management facilities accountable for improper storage and handling of the hazardous waste they manage for others.”

During a March 2009, routine inspection of the GEM facility in Rancho Cordova, DTSC inspectors uncovered multiple hazardous waste violations. DTSC also found documented evidence that some violations dated back to December 2006.

GEM’s violations included  storing chemicals and hazardous waste outside the authorized facility, and exceeding the permitted facility hazardous waste quantity limit for a significant period of time. The company also stored chemicals and hazardous waste in unauthorized areas of the facility, and failed to use proper precautions such as a required secondary containment.

The waste involved included more than 82,300 gallons of acids, solvents, and toxins. In some cases, the company exceeded the permitted storage capacity by as much as 150 percent. This greatly increased the potential for spills and/or the mixing of incompatible chemicals, that could jeopardize workers, local residents and the environment.

According to DTSC, the agency has been working with GEM owners to address the violations and ensure the fine will be paid since March 2009. The GEM facility is now under new corporate ownership, and has made several operational and management changes, which DTSC said is part of the reason for delay of the  final settlement.

GEM (now doing business as PSC Environmental Services of Rancho Cordova, LLC) operates a hazardous waste storage and treatment facility servicing hazardous waste generators in Northern California.

Phoenix Groundwater Cleanup Controversy Heats Up

Government agencies and a private contractor are debating who should stem spreading groundwater contamination in the Phoenix area.

Crane Co. is responsible for cleaning the contaminated water, and it says it is spending millions on the job. But city, state and federal government leaders say the company isn’t doing enough, The Arizona Republic reported Saturday.

The dispute centers on how to keep a plume that has been spreading for decades from reaching drinking-water wells that serve the communities of Avondale, Goodyear and Litchfield Park.

Goodyear already has shut down four wells, while Avondale’s are unaffected so far. Litchfield Park fears the plume could contaminate its privately owned wells and the city’s lake.

Current supplies are unaffected, but officials say wells are at risk unless the toxic plume is contained. It is not known how far and how fast the contaminants might spread.

The Phoenix Goodyear Airport Superfund Site contains two contaminated plumes. The northern plume is spreading while the south plume has been largely contained.

The source of the pollution in the north plume was Unidynamics Phoenix Inc., which was established in 1963 as a research, development and manufacturing plant for defense and aerospace equipment. The plant disposed of its waste by dumping it into dry wells and unlined oxidation ponds, a common practice at the time.

Most of the contamination is trichloroethylene, or TCE. The solvent is believed to cause cancer and other health problems.

The Arizona Department of Health Services discovered the groundwater contamination in 1981, and the EPA added the site to a priority cleanup list two years later.

Crane Co., which manufactures highly engineered industrial products and is based in Stamford, Conn., bought Unidynamics and owns the land where the contaminants originated.

Crane officials will not comment on cleanup efforts, but the company has installed wells and water-treatment systems designed to monitor the contamination, extract contaminants from the water and re-inject the water into the ground.

It is estimated that Crane has spent about $43 million for the cleanup so far, with a total estimated tab for Crane of almost $54 million.

The major controversy is about how many injection wells are needed to pump cleaned water into the ground to create a barrier, stopping the plume’s spread east toward Avondale.

The EPA, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the three southwest Valley cities want five wells. Crane Co. believes that three injection wells are enough.

Currently, two wells are operating, and another is about to be built.

Crane’s attorney sent the EPA a letter in September, maintaining that its requirement to add two more injection wells “is not technically justified, and in Crane’s view, is arbitrary.”

But EPA disagreed, and in its reply said  “This project cannot afford to use a ‘wait-and-see’ approach toward plume expansion, and efforts must be focused on stopping further movement of the plume.”

It’s uncertain how long the tug-of-war between Crane and EPA will continue, but local city managers are frustrated that in the meantime to plume continues to migrate toward sources of drinking water.

Wayne Janis, Avondale’s water-resources manager, told the Arizona Republic that compared with the profits Crane makes, the money it spends on pollution control is “just a drop in the bucket.”

According to the Arizona Republic, Crane’s 2009 annual report shows the company had an operating profit that year of $208 million.

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