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Community Backs Cleanup Plan for Tainted Water in Santa Clarita

March 27, 1987|ANDREW C. REVKIN | Times Staff Writer

A long-planned cleanup of polluted soil and water beneath a Placerita Canyon explosives plant moved closer to implementation Thursday night when state health officials heard final public comments on the $1.7-million project.

The cleanup is one of a pair of projects aimed at eliminating chemical contamination deposited over the last 20 years at two Santa Clarita Valley plants run by Space Ordnance Systems, or SOS, which manufactures explosive components of weapons and spacecraft.

About two dozen area residents attended a hearing on the plan at the Mitchell School in Canyon Country. Those who spoke gave the Placerita Canyon project, in its final form, a strong endorsement--complaining only about the three-year lag between discovery of the problem and action to eliminate it.

Homeowners Relieved

"It's been a long time coming," said Rita Garasi, president of the Sand Canyon Homeowners Assn. She said residents were relieved that the parent company of SOS, TransTechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks, offered to undertake the study and pay for the cleanup.

Angelo Bellomo, chief of the Southern California division of the state Toxic Substances Control Division of the state Department of Health Services, said the delay was because "this process is very new." The SOS project is only the second cleanup in California to be undertaken under toxic-waste laws enacted in 1984, he said.

In March, 1984, simultaneous raids by health and law-enforcement agencies at SOS plants in Placerita Canyon and Agua Dulce uncovered widespread evidence of illegal storage and disposal of hazardous waste. Last year, SOS officials pleaded no contest to 10 misdemeanor violations of hazardous-waste laws and paid a $300,000 fine.

Samples Tested

The 1984 raids were followed by a detailed study of pollution in ground water and soil around the plants. Samples taken from beneath the sites contained unacceptable levels of hazardous solvents and other chemicals.

SOS was ordered by the state in 1985 to devise a cleanup program to prevent the chemicals from seeping into the surrounding ground water, which provides drinking water for many area residents.

The cleanup plan for the Agua Dulce site, which is being drafted separately, should be ready for public comment in about a month, said John Casey, the state health department officer overseeing the SOS cleanup.

Under the Placerita Canyon plan, SOS will excavate contaminated soil and drill five wells to extract tainted ground water. The soil will be trucked to licensed hazardous-waste dumps in Kern and Kings counties. The water will be cleansed by a carbon filtration system and pumped back into the earth.

The state health department plans to charge 90% of the estimated cleanup cost to SOS and the other 10% to the owner of the property, Special Devices Inc.

Firms May Appeal

But representatives of both firms, speaking at the hearing, said they plan to appeal that decision. SOS argues that four other former or current users of the property also dumped toxic waste and should pay 42% of the cleanup cost at Placerita, and that other firms should share the cost of the Agua Dulce cleanup. Louis Meisinger, an attorney for Special Devices, said his company is "merely a landlord."

The companies can take their case to a three-member arbitration panel created by the state three years ago to apportion costs for hazardous-substance cleanups, Casey said.

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