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Superfunds Not Super Fast at Toxic Cleanup

April 18, 1985|MYRON LEVIN | Times Staff Writer

Lubrication Co. of America recently urged customers to join with it to "clean up our (Los Angeles') industrial 'act' " by giving waste oils and solvents to the company for recycling.

"WE LOVE L.A. Enough . . . to start doing something" about toxic wastes, the oil blending and recycling firm said in a flyer that was distributed to its customers.

"We try to wear the white hat," company President Grant Ivey said in an interview.

Lubrication Co. in January gained recognition in the environmental arena, but not in the way it had hoped.

At that time, state health officials added the company's oil refining and storage plant near Canyon Country to the state Superfund list of toxic waste sites that may pose a long-term threat to health or the environment.

It is one of 10 locations in the area of Glendale and the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys now on the mushrooming roster of state and federal Superfund sites needing priority attention.

Expanded to 180 Sites

All 10 sites are on the state Superfund list, which in January was expanded from 93 to 180 sites. Four also are among a more select group of 786 dumps that have final or proposed federal Superfund status.

State officials said a history of leaks and spills of petroleum wastes had contaminated as much as half of Lubrication Co.'s 17-acre site. Recent tests have also revealed low levels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and high levels of lead in soil at the refinery.

Besides the waste oil plant, the nine other local Superfund sites are:

Four water well fields underlying parts of North Hollywood, Burbank and Glendale, where unacceptable levels of TCE and perchloroethylene, or PCE, have been found in water. These groups of wells, operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the cities of Burbank and Glendale, and the Crescenta Valley County Water District, have been formally proposed as federal Superfund sites, which means the larger federal program could pay 90% of cleanup costs.

The City of Glendale relies on ground water for 15% to 20% of its water supply. It has eight other wells that are not polluted.

Rockwell International's Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the mountains above Canoga Park, where trichloroethylene, or TCE, a suspected cancer-causing solvent, has spilled and leaked from waste ponds into ground water.

Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Co. in Saugus, which, according to state health department files, "has a history of ground disposal and spills" of oily wastes and water laced with caustic compounds and toxic chromium. The plant is near the Santa Clara River in an area where the water table is high, leading to concern about potential contamination of drinking water.

Space Ordnance Systems' Mint Canyon and Sand Canyon plants--each a state Superfund site--where explosive wastes are being stored and where toxic chemicals have been found in ground water.

Southern Pacific Transportation Co. property in the 5300 block of Strohm Avenue in North Hollywood, where a plastics firm illegally dumped toxic chemicals in 1979.

The $1.6-billion federal Superfund, run by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Superfund, supported by a voter-approved $100-million bond fund and run by the toxic substances control division of the state Department of Health Services, were created to expedite cleanup of toxic sites.

Under each program, designated sites are to be cleaned by site operators or by those who generated or transported the wastes. But, if the responsible parties cannot be identified or are unwilling or unable to pay, cleanup work can be financed by the Superfunds and dumpers can be sued for recovery of costs and damages.

Few Sites Cleaned

Although the Superfund program was intended to hasten corrective work at toxic waste dumps, Superfund sites are not assured of speedy cleanup, as frustrated lawmakers and dismayed environmentalists and citizens' groups have learned. Despite Superfund's dynamic name and high profile, it has managed to clean up few sites.

Of the 10 San Fernando Valley-area sites, only the smallest stands a chance of being cleaned up by the end of this year. That is the Southern Pacific Transportation Co.'s property where 200 gallons of liquid waste were dumped by a plastics firm nearly six years ago.

But officials say engineering studies or cleanup work will soon be under way at several of the sites.

Officials say that in many cases, the scope of pollution at Superfund sites is so extensive or difficult to define that corrective work will take years.

The four San Fernando Valley well water fields, which provide about 15% of the area's drinking water, are a case in point.

Well Test Results

Tests conducted from 1980 until 1983 showed that water from 47 of 109 wells in the area contained levels of TCE or PCE above state advisory standards. Both solvents have been widely used as industrial degreasers and dry-cleaning agents, and sloppy handling of the compounds by many industrial and commercial establishments could be to blame.

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