WASHINGTON — With 14 toxic waste dumps considered serious threats to public health, California leads a list of 99 additional Superfund priority cleanup sites released Tuesday.
But final cleanup of the state's new Superfund sites--plus 34 already on the list--could be a decade or more away, officials said. The Environmental Protection Agency has cleanup work under way at about half of the 800-plus sites currently on the Superfund list, including 17 in California. But despite $1.6 billion spent so far on the program, only 13 of the nation's waste sites have been thoroughly cleaned.
"We're not going to see large numbers of sites coming off the (Superfund) list soon," EPA spokesman Priscilla Flattery said. "EPA gets a bad rap, but sometimes it takes 10 to 15 years to clean up sites," particularly where toxic wastes have leached into the soil and contaminated groundwater, she said.
97 Sites in New Jersey
The new problem spots added to the list, which for the first time includes federally owned as well as private sites, paint a picture of toxic misery at locations throughout the country. New Jersey continued to be the state with the worst problem with 97 sites on the overall list, followed by New York with 63, Pennsylvania with 61, Michigan with 58 and California with 48.
The most seriously contaminated of the new California sites, according to EPA's rankings, are concentrated in two areas--near Sacramento and in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Military bases are the major problem in the Sacramento region. In the south part of the Bay Area, manufacturing of electrical equipment uses large amounts of toxic solvents that threaten, if not properly controlled, to contaminate the groundwater for hundreds of thousands of people in and around Santa Clara, according to the EPA.
The list also includes two less seriously contaminated Southern California sites--Waste Disposal Inc. in Santa Fe Springs and Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino.
EPA is trying to locate people who might be responsible for dumping potentially cancer-causing chemicals, including benzene, toluene and phenol, at the Waste Disposal site, which was run as a waste dump from 1928 until 1965.
According to EPA documents, California officials had licensed the site to receive "acetylene sludge, brewery residues and fluids from cesspools" as well as oil field drilling muds, but "unidentified substances may have been dumped at the facility at night." The site was the subject of numerous citizen complaints throughout its years of operation, according to EPA.
Norton Air Base has numerous spots that were used to dump old machine oil, solvents and paint residues, some of which in the past have contaminated wells on the base.
The most serious of the California waste sites added to the list Tuesday is at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, where a municipal water system serving 23,000 people has been contaminated by potentially cancer-causing industrial solvents used for airplane repair and maintenance. The solvents were stored in more than 150 separate depots, many of which have leaked and have contaminated groundwater. EPA lists McClellan as one of the 100 most seriously contaminated waste sites in the country.
Three other military installations added to the list--the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado, the Weldon Spring Quarry in Missouri and the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee--are also on EPA's worst-100 list.
The Colorado site was used for years to manufacture poison gas. The Missouri site is contaminated with radioactive uranium and thorium wastes. The Tennessee site contains 11 ponds filled with sediment contaminated with explosives and poisonous metals.
Among civilian sites added to the list, one of the most heavily contaminated is a plant in Illinois that made metal fittings for caskets for nearly a century. When the company went bankrupt in 1982, environmental inspectors found a huge storage lagoon and scores of battered and dented tanks filled with sludge. The sludge contains cyanide.
Another of the most serious problems is at an abandoned coal mine shaft near Pittston, Pa., which has been used for half a century as a waste dump. In 1985, after EPA initially had decided not to put the mine on the Superfund list, a flood caused by Hurricane Gloria washed through the tunnel, flushing 100,000 gallons of waste into the Susquehanna River.
Other California sites added to the list include four electronics industry sites in Santa Clara County--Applied Materials and National Semiconductor Corp., both in Santa Clara; Monolithic Memories Inc., Sunnyvale, and Teledyne Semiconductor, Mountain View--and two additional military installations near Sacramento, Mather Air Force Base and Sacramento Army Depot.
Also on the list are Castle Air Force Base near Merced, Moffett Naval Air Station in Sunnyvale and Sharpe Army Depot near Lathrop in the San Joaquin Valley. The remaining non-military sites are a Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. plant in Salinas and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore.