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Contaminants Will Be Steam-Cleaned From Polluted Soil

April 23, 1987|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

About 8,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil at a former petrochemical storage facility in San Pedro will be "detoxified" by an unusual treatment that uses hot air and steam to remove volatile organic compounds, state health officials said this week.

The soil, covering about 1 1/2 acres of the former GATX Corp. terminal annex at 22nd and Miner streets, was contaminated by various industrial chemicals during occasional spills at the site and by a 1972 fire that destroyed 17 storage tanks and injured 50 firemen, the officials said.

At least two of the 13 contaminants found at the site--benzene and vinyl chloride--are known to cause cancer.

Closed in 1983

The 59-tank annex was closed in 1983 by the Port of Los Angeles, which owns the property and first leased it to GATX in 1968, after a local environmental group charged that it was built in an improperly zoned area. Residents about 300 yards away had complained that odors from the facility made them ill, said Bea Atwood Hunt, president of the Coastal and Harbor Hazards Council, the group that led the campaign to remove the facility.

Port officials said the $1.28-million cleanup, which will be conducted by GATX and monitored by state health officials, would allow them to include the property in a proposed $34.2-million Fishermen's Wharf development that is proposed for the foot of 22nd Street, half a mile south of Ports O' Call Village.

The 5.2-acre annex has been unused since the storage tanks were dismantled at the end of 1983, although the port has continued to collect $56,000 annual rent from GATX pending the site's cleanup.

Angelo Bellomo, chief of the local toxic substances control division of the state Department of Health Services, said at a hearing on the cleanup Tuesday that the treatment process would leave the property safe for public and commercial uses such as the Fishermen's Wharf, which will include a fish market and restaurants. "The desire here is to end up with a piece of property that has no restrictions on future development," Bellomo said.

'Everybody Is Happy'

Goldie Otters, a Point Fermin resident and a member of the Coastal and Harbor Hazards Council, said that the group supports the cleanup proposal--particularly the state's role in monitoring it.

"This is good," Otters said. "Everybody is happy that something is being done."

The treatment process, known as steam stripping, is considered an innovative technology by the state, meaning that a substitute method may be required if it fails. It has been used just once before, at an underground tank farm in Long Beach where state health officials said it was only partly successful because the treatment equipment was unable to handle unexpectedly high concentrations of contaminants.

Carolyn Mejia, project officer for the GATX property for the Department of Health Services, said that the equipment has been modified to handle higher concentrations of chemicals and that a test conducted last year on a 10-gallon sample of the soil showed that it removed the contaminants. Cleanup crews will conduct a 10-day trial run of the equipment at the site before the actual cleanup begins, Mejia said. The cleanup is expected to take two months.

If the process is not successful, state health officials have recommended that GATX excavate the property and remove the contaminated soil to a landfill, Mejia said. Both GATX and state health officials prefer the stream stripping alternative, however, because it cleans the soil rather than simply transferring the contamination to a new site.

Two Hollow Blades Used

The treatment system uses two hollow blades that inject steam and hot air into the soil to a depth of six feet. The mixture heats the soil and raises the temperature of the chemicals, eventually causing them to evaporate. The evaporated chemicals are then trapped at the surface in a metal box and piped to a processor, which cools the chemical vapors until they turn into liquid. The liquid chemicals are then taken to an incinerator.

GATX officials, who have been working for three years to come up with a cleanup technology, said they have made arrangements to take the liquid chemicals to an incinerator in Texas.

"Our intent all along has been to take care of the site and return it to the port," said Rick Sandell, a GATX official at the hearing Tuesday. Among other things, the Chicago-based company leases chemical storage facilities to manufacturers and shippers. The company leases a terminal around the corner from the 22nd Street site at the port's Berths 70 and 71.

State health officials found industrial chemicals, chlorinated solvents, plasticizers, coatings, adhesives and paint additives in the soil where the 1972 fire occurred and where the chemicals were pumped from railroad tank cars through hoses and pipes to the storage tanks. Ground-water sampling also showed that contaminants had entered the ground water beneath the site and had migrated to the east.

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