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High Solvent Levels Found in Test Wells at 3 Lockheed Plants

May 07, 1987|ANDREW C. REVKIN | Times Staff Writer

High concentrations of two hazardous solvents have been found in ground water beneath three Burbank plants of the Lockheed-California Co., according to a detailed study filed by the aerospace firm with state water-quality officials.

The study provides the strongest evidence yet that Lockheed contributed to the contamination that has forced Burbank and Los Angeles to shut down more than 30 municipal water wells in North Hollywood and Burbank.

Despite the new study, which reported that some water samples from beneath a Lockheed plant had a concentration of solvent 3,000 times the state-set limit, a company official insisted Tuesday that other firms may have caused the pollution.

Solvents Detected

Officials of the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, which requested the study, said they expect it to help pinpoint which companies in the area, including many besides Lockheed, were responsible for the solvent pollution. The eight-inch-thick report was just received Friday, however, and it has not yet been analyzed, said Hank Yacoub, supervising engineer of the water board's toxics division.

Starting in 1980, high concentrations of two industrial solvents, trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene--or TCE and PCE--were detected in water drawn from DWP wells in North Hollywood and wells supplying neighboring Burbank. About 15% of Los Angeles' drinking water is drawn from San Fernando Valley wells, with the water piped primarily to customers in central and south Los Angeles.

By 1986, half of the 80 wells in the area were found to be contaminated with excessive levels of the two solvents, both of which are believed to cause cancer.

State water officials say they have long suspected Lockheed of contributing to the water pollution because it was known to have used both PCE and TCE extensively over many years.

Limits Exceeded

The $1.4-million ground-water study was begun last year after preliminary tests of soil around underground storage tanks at Lockheed's plants detected "hot spots" of extremely high levels of the solvents. State water officials ordered the aerospace firm to dig 12 tests wells to see if the solvents had reached underlying ground water.

The most serious contamination was detected beneath Lockheed's oldest plant, a triangular complex bordered by Empire Avenue, Victory Place and the Southern Pacific Railroad Line. According to the report, one sample contained PCE at 12,000 parts per billion, 3,000 times the state-set limit of 4 ppb. In the same well, TCE was detected at a concentration of 1,600 ppb, or 320 times the state limit for TCE of 5 ppb.

That plant, in operation since before World War II, has been the center of Lockheed's plating and painting, which require the heaviest use of PCE or TCE, Miland said. TCE was used until 1966 to remove grease from metal before plating or painting, and PCE has been used since then, he said.

The highest concentrations of the two solvents were found in a test well dug near a spot where Lockheed recently dismantled a "clarifier," a series of cement-lined ponds where solid waste was allowed to settle out of waste water before it was piped to Burbank's sewer system.

Leaks Found in Clarifier

Acids in the waste over 30 years or more had eaten away at the cement, Miland said, causing the clarifier to leak. Lockheed abandoned the clarifier two years ago and now pumps its liquid waste to its own treatment plant, he said.

The tests found that water samples taken from deeper in the earth had lower levels of PCE and TCE. But, even in some samples drawn from as deep as 480 feet, solvent concentrations were dozens of times greater than the allowable limits.

A key concern of Lockheed in designing the study was to determine if other firms in the area might have contributed to the underground pollution. The company has consistently pressed the regional board to look for other sources of ground-water pollution.

"There are a lot of small businesses and industries around us that have used the same types of chemicals that are of concern," Miland said. "We're at the lower end of the funnel here in the eastern San Fernando Valley . . . . Almost all of the ground water in the area flows under our plant and through Burbank."

Seepage From North

The report points out that PCE and TCE found in the northernmost well, at a Lockheed plant between San Fernando Road and the northern runway of Burbank Airport, must have seeped from the north and were thus produced by other companies. But it goes on to say that levels of the two solvents in wells downstream of that plant show even higher levels--a finding water officials are likely to interpret as evidence that Lockheed added to the pollution.

In coming months, more samples will be drawn from the existing wells, and four new wells will be dug around the most severely polluted site--the southeasternmost plant--to get a more detailed look at the extent of the problem, Yacoub said.

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