Norma Yarros stood among her neighbors Monday night and told how she and her family have literally put their lives on the line during the 11 years they have lived on Hillcrest Road near the site of the McColl toxic waste dump in Fullerton.
She said it is about time that the threat posed by the waste is removed permanently.
Most of the nearly 175 residents who showed up at a community meeting at Parks Junior High School agreed. They were there to hear about a proposal to temporarily "cap" the dump's sludge to stabilize the site, but what they wanted was a long-term solution.
"It's not adequate just to contain (the waste)," Yarros said. "It should be removed and decontaminated. I think this whole proposal is designed to shelve the issue. No guarantees are being made about removal."
The meeting was called by the five oil companies--Shell, Arco, Texaco, Unocal and Phillips--that have been held responsible for dumping the 1940s-era aviation waste that now contaminates McColl.
William Duchie, a spokesman for the companies, said the proposal is intended mainly to stabilize the site and prevent exposure of buried waste in the event of a major disaster such as an earthquake.
"We are not looking at this a quick fix and then getting out," Duchie said. "We are looking at this as protection for the community. It is a quick fix only in the sense that it breaks the logjam and allows something to happen on the site."
But many residents accused the companies of duplicity.
"It is my experience that you speak with a forked tongue," said Betty Porras, co-chairwoman of the McColl Action Committee.
"On the one hand you say you want this to be a temporary solution but on the other you have asked the EPA to consider this as a final and permanent solution. You would be able to walk away from this almost scot-free."
Monday's meeting was the first in a series designed to engage community residents in the ongoing debate about how to clean up the site.
The state Department of Health Services and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are considering implementing all or parts of the $12.5-million proposal on a temporary or long-term basis.
The project would entail:
- Removing about 3,000 cubic yards of surface waste.
- Building a seven-foot-deep soil and fabric cap to control noxious odors and prevent contact with the sludge.
- Building underground rock and concrete walls to prevent movement of waste material.
- Building retaining walls to shore up slopes.
- A gas collection and monitoring system.
A spokesman for the oil companies' said the plan is intended mainly to stabilize the site and prevent exposure of buried wastes in a major earthquake.
But the plan has drawn sharp criticism from city officials who say the cap would prove impractical to remove once in place.
Most of the packed audience cheered when Barry Eaton, the city's chief planner, asserted that the company's proposal is being "presented as an interim solution but is being designed as permanent."
John Belvins, McColl project manager for the EPA, said the the agency does not consider stability of the site a major concern. An analysis after the Oct. 1 earthquake revealed no signs of instability.
He also said the agency has placed movement markers at the site for further analysis.
The McColl site was used in 1942-46 for disposing of acid wastes from the World War II production of aviation fuel. In 1957, the Los Coyotes Country Club was built on a portion of the site and in the 1970s a residential community was built adjacent to the site.
In previous tests, health officials had determined that soil at the dump contains sulfuric acid, benzene and arsenic. But earlier this month health officials announced that for the first time, contaminated ground water had been found.
Superfund Project Blocked
The contaminated ground water was detected by the EPA, which in March drilled 41 bore holes 250 feet deep to take samples of the sludge. Laboratory tests found the ground water to be contaminated with low-level concentrations of benzene, toluene, xylene, acetone and hexane. Health officials say the dump still poses no immediate health threat.
In 1985, a $26-million federal Superfund project to excavate and remove the waste to a Kern County disposal site was blocked when residents near the site successfully sued to have an environmental impact report carried out. The recent ground water discovery was made as a part of the EIR, which is scheduled to be completed in January.
State health officials and the EPA have been studying various cleanup methods including treatment and reburial of the waste, incineration and another capping plan similar to the companies' proposal. The state has estimated cleanup costs at $50 million to $100 million.
Blevins said the EPA and the Department of Health Services will hold a community meeting at the end of November and will announce a final decision in December.