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GLENDALE ON FRONT LINE OF CHROMIUM 6 FIGHT.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh Staff Writer

GLENDALE - Rising levels of chromium 6 in the city's groundwater wells could force the shutdown of multimillion-dollar treatment plants that aren't designed to remove the chemical from the drinking supply, officials warned.

Recent tests of eight wells found hexavalent chromium - more commonly known as chromium 6 - at levels as high as 49 parts per billion, just shy of the state's 50 ppb health standard for maximum total chromium.

The Glendale City Council has chosen to limit chromium levels to 5 ppb and below - similar to caps adopted by Burbank and Los Angeles - and has so far kept residential drinking water well within state health limits by blending chromium-tainted groundwater with more expensive water piped in from other parts of California.

But water regulators warned last week that treatment plants might have to be shut down if chromium 6 levels get too high to dilute with imported water.

``For now, we're in a happy place. As concentrations increase, that might cause a problem,'' said Peter Kavounas, water-services manager for Glendale Water & Power. ``We're working real hard to get a solution in place to deal with the problem and come up with a solution at no cost to Glendale residents.''

Glendale water officials say their hope lies with an experimental $2 million system designed to remove chromium 6 - the first project of its kind in the nation. Research has cost nearly $1.2 million, paid with federal funding and help from Los Angeles and Burbank.

``Everything is kind of flowing to Glendale first. That's giving us a lot of incentive to move ahead with the research,'' Kavounas said.

Chromium 6 is a metal-finishing chemical that gained public attention in the Academy Award-winning film ``Erin Brokovich.'' The environmental crusader helped win a landmark settlement for residents of Hinckley, Calif., who were sickened by chromium 6 in the town's water supply.

The Los Angeles-based Regional Water Quality Control Board launched a massive chromium 6 investigation in 1999, looking at 4,000 businesses that may have used the chemical and allowed it to leak it into the soil and groundwater.

The board has whittled the list down to 85 potential polluters and hopes to wrap up the study in the coming year. The board has issued cleanup orders to seven companies so far.

Mel Blevins, former San Fernando Valley water master, warned in 2003 that chromium cleanup was proceeding too slowly. He said again recently that rising levels of the contaminant could force shutdown of treatment plants.

``Something's happening, and it's going to happen soon - in a year or two,'' Blevins said.

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo also has taken up the cause, and late last month he began prosecuting an Atwater Village chrome plater accused of polluting groundwater with chromium 6.

Excello Plating Inc. faces charges for a chemical plume that is right next to a well supplying Glendale's treatment plant. The water board also accused Excello Plating of stalling on a cleanup order.

Excello officials and their attorney refused to comment on the charges.

Delgadillo and water investigators said they expect more prosecutions as they try to turn up the heat and accelerate the chromium 6 cleanup.

Glendale Senior Assistant City Attorney Steven Lins said his city is considering a nuisance abatement or criminal charges against companies that drag their feet on cleanups.

However, he said the chromium contamination problem is too big to attack it one company at a time, and he anticipates that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will come in when all the polluters have been identified and go after them for money to pay for the cleanup.

The EPA did that in the 1990s after Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale water supplies were contaminated with a cocktail of volatile organic compounds. Companies paid for multimillion-dollar treatment plants in North Hollywood, Burbank and the Glendale plant now threatened by chromium 6.

``Hundreds of potentially responsible parties pooled their resources to clean up the volatile organic compounds. That's the kind of solution we need for chromium 6,'' Lins said.

Much like those volatile organic compounds, chromium hot spots have been found from Pacoima to Atwater Village along the Interstate 5 industrial corridor, where metal finishers and aerospace firms used chromium since the 1940s and may have spilled or leaked the potent chemical into the soil and groundwater.

California was supposed to adopt a drinking-water standard for chromium 6 by January 2004, but missed that deadline after allegations that a key state report on the safety of chromium 6 was influenced by corporate interests and downplayed the risk of the contaminant.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment expects to release a chromium 6 public health goal in early 2005. Officials will consider that and costs of treatment in setting the new drinking-water standard, which could differ from the current total chromium standard of 50 ppb.

Kerry Cavanaugh, (818) 713-3746

kerry.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 4, 2004
Words:821
Previous Article:STILL FIGHTING AGAINST ARUNDO.
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