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DIOXINS TESTING URGED NEIGHBORS DISTRUST BERMITE SITE CLEANUP.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - For years, a device the size of a compact car has been quietly at work on a hill at the old Bermite munitions factory - pulling toxic fumes from the dirt, decontaminating them and sending trace leftovers into the air.

The system - the second installed on the site - has nearly completed its job and is on its way to being phased out, officials say.

But area residents, some of whom live a half-mile from the site, want more information about pollutants - particularly dangerous dioxins - that could be emitted by the operation.

``I'm concerned. I'm not lying awake at night worrying about it. ... We want more information,'' said resident Jennifer Kilpatrick, who goes to Citizens Advisory Group meetings about the site. ``After that I may be real concerned.''

Officials from Remediation Financial Inc. - the parent company of Santa Clarita L.L.C., which owns the site and wants to build as many as 3,000 homes there - said any emissions would be in such a low quantity that they doubt there is cause for concern.

Still, they are supporting state regulators' plans to consider testing stack emissions to see just what is being sent into the air.

``If that helps people's comfort and dispels misconceptions, we'll do it. ... That's what we're here for, to clean it up,'' said RFI's site-restoration director Alan C. Berg.

The catalytic oxidizer was put in place in 1990 as part of efforts by Bermite's parent company, Whittaker Corp., to clean up contaminants in the soil after decades of munitions work.

Trichloroethlyne, a probable carcinogen, and perchloroethylene, a suspected cancer-causing agent, are in the soil - inside a 70-foot pit created during earlier attempts to clean the area by excavation of mounds of contaminated dirt.

Through pipes deep in the soil, the catalytic oxidizer pulls up the volatile organic compounds, heats them up to destroy them, then emits a small portion into the air.

The original system was replaced with an upgraded one in 1996, officials said. The permit is undergoing a change of ownership application to the new company.

After an inspection in February, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said the company was operating within its permit, which limits the intake of volatile organic compounds to 136 parts per million.

Company records for the past two years show intake levels ranging from 12 ppm last month to 90 in March 1998, Berg said. He said intake levels would have been as high as 2,000 when the device was first installed under a different permit.

Because the machine is supposed to destroy as much as 99 percent of the chemicals during the heating process, limited quantities are expected to be emitted, officials said. Those at the output, according to recent data, do not exceed 1 ppm, company officials said.

``All of these things, along with the fact the unit, if operating properly, should destroy 90 percent are meant to ensure the VOCs being treated are being controlled,'' said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.

But there has been no study into whether dioxins, a byproduct of combustion, are coming from the stack.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has recently asked the state Air Resources Board to study the stack emissions for dioxins. That study is pending.

Regulators and company officials doubt dioxins will rise to a level of concern.

``We did not see any indication of dioxins being emitted from this kind of equipment,'' said AQMD's Atwood, who said the agency will conduct a follow-up inspection at the site to ensure the company is in compliance with the permit.

``I don't believe anybody should worry about dioxins from this machine,'' site-restoration director Berg said. ``It's operating within the parameters of the permit.''

``Because we're living with this legacy of industrial contamination we have to deal with the contamination the best way we know how,'' said Berg. ``It's a lot better to do this than put the stuff in a landfill.''

DTSC's Nancy Carder said the devices are common - as is increased testing for dioxins.

``I think everybody should be concerned about what's close to their neighborhoods. ... Between the low level the unit is pulling and the distance to the residents, I don't believe it's a problem,'' Carder said.

But residents want a test to be sure.

``The problem I have is they don't know, they haven't tested it,'' said resident Adam Ford, whose family lives on Claibourn Lane in the Circle J Ranch homes near the site.

``It's not unreasonable for people to want to know what's coming out of that thing,'' Ford said.

``It's probably not that big a deal. ... We haven't seen coyotes running around with two heads, but when you hear of things like depleted plutonium, perchlorate, TCE - all the stuff they dumped ... it concerns you, to say the least.''

BERMITE CLEANUP

State regulators are looking into studying emissions from a vapor extraction system. Residents have raised concerns about possible pollutants.

--The vapor-extraction system at the former Bermite munitions site draws contamination from the soil as vapor, puts it through a combustion-like process that is designed to destroy 98-99 percent, then releases it into the air.

--The system sits alongside a dirt road on the southeast corner of the property, pulling contaminants from an underground pipeline.

--The system is housed in a 7-by-14-foot structure, with a 12-foot high emission stack.

CAPTION(S):

map, box

Box: BERMITE CLEANUP (see text)

Map: Porta Bella Property and Contaminated area
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 29, 2000
Words:910
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