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CLEANUP TO BEGIN AT BERMITE DETOXIFICATION AT OLD WEAPONS PLANT TO TAKE YEARS.

Byline: Judy O'Rourke Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Nearly 20 years after Whittaker-Bermite stopped manufacturing and testing weapons on its nearly 1,000-acre property in the heart of town, cleanup will begin on contaminated soil left behind.

The agency overseeing the site's decontamination will start excavating the tainted soil March 22 from one sector.

``We're moving clean soil so we can get to deeper portions of contaminated soil to remove it and treat it,'' said Jose Diaz, the project manager overseeing the project for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. ``Clean soil will be placed into the openings, which will be backfilled as quickly as possible.''

Bermite manufactured and tested explosives from 1934 to 1987, often burning or burying items on the property.

Perchlorate, a chemical residue from rocket fuel that has been implicated in thyroid problems, is the major contaminant that remains. DTSC Unit Chief Rita Camat said perchlorate and volatile compounds ``drive the risk'' on the site. The compounds evaporate easily at room temperature.

Bermite manufactured a number of explosives, including dynamite, practice bombs, flares, fireworks, igniters, ammunition rounds and rocket motors. The devices contained lead azide, red phosphorus, barium, copper, solvents, perchlorate and other chemicals.

The site is sectioned into areas that correspond to former buildings or operations.

More than 400,000 cubic yards of soil will be removed to reach the 150,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil destined for cleaning, said John Naginis, a senior geologist for the DTSC.

The cleanup process is like composting on a large scale.

``You put it in a bag and add some nutrients to it, which breaks up the perchlorate,'' Diaz said. Each bag holds 400 cubic yards of soil.

The DTSC has been overseeing the investigation of the 996-acre property for about 10 years. Its inquiry into contaminated soil is done.

Corrective work will be carried out in phases, with clean soil filling the voids. Contaminated soil will be cleaned on the premises on a treatment pad designated for this purpose. Diaz estimates the first phase will take 18 months to two years, but the end is not yet in sight.

``It's going to be a long process, seven to 10 years seems realistic to get to a point where you can say you could start building on it,'' he said. ``We won't let them build till we clean the entire site.''

Three developers are bidding for the property in bankruptcy court with plans to develop it.

The DTSC knows soil much deeper down - to at least 200 feet - is contaminated with perchlorate, but Diaz said soil at more shallow levels must be tackled first. Soil in a couple of areas will be removed to a depth of 40 feet.

``If you don't get the hot spots now they will continue to pose a threat to the groundwater and to the surface water,'' he said. The agency began looking into the phase 1 area, known as Operable Unit 1, six years ago.

Even if the work is carried out on windy days, Diaz said blowing dirt contaminated with perchlorate would not pose a health risk.

``It's not really an inhalation hazard,'' he said. ``It's like table salt, you mix it with water and it disappears and goes where the groundwater goes.''

He said ingesting the substance in drinking water would be hazardous. The DTSC's investigation of water on the Bermite site is about 70 percent complete. Test wells have been dug 1,600 feet in some places.

The water utility is moving forward with its remedial action plan, which was approved by the DTSC in the last month or two. The plan design for the entire project is about 80 percent complete, said Bill Manetta, retail manager for the Santa Clarita Water Division of the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

After the water treatment plan is finalized and the Department of Health Services has granted a permit, bids will be sent out. Work could begin on the project, which includes pipelines, and treating Saugus Wells 1 and 2, by the end of summer.

``We hope to have the project online in early 2007,'' Manetta said.

Notices will be sent to residents and businesses within a quarter-mile radius of the excavation area before soil treatment begins.

The site is bounded by Soledad Canyon, Golden Valley and San Fernando roads. Circle J Ranch is to the south.

Camat said the next step is preparing a feasibility study that will explore alternatives for cleaning soil on the rest of the site. A remedial action plan will be devised for that purpose. Soil and water will be cleaned concurrently.

Judy O'Rourke, (661) 257-5255

judy.orourke(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 12, 2006
Words:775
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