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Lockheed Neighbors Oppose Cleanup Plan : Safety: Fearing air pollution and health risks, residents say they will challenge proposed vapor extraction system.


BURBANK — Hundreds of residents appeared at a public meeting Wednesday to oppose the Lockheed Corp. effort to clean up contaminated soil on a 90-acre site, claiming it will pose grave health risks to neighbors.

Complying with federal orders to remove contaminants left behind after 63 years of building military aircraft, Lockheed wants to build a so-called vapor extraction system of wells, pipes and charcoal filters that would release up to 40 pounds a day of potentially cancer-causing substances from a 50-foot tower.

The plan--which has been given preliminary approval by the South Coast Air Quality Management District--is said to be the best means for Lockheed to prevent further contamination of underground water sources.

But it has raised the ire of residents who want to stop work through legal channels on the $13.7-million project proposed for the site of Lockheed's former B-1 plant.

Both sides are prepared for a battle.

Lockheed has hired two public relations firms to help ease public concerns. And a Tarzana-based law firm representing nearly 200 residents is seeking an injunction to halt the project.

"Did you consider the prior experience these people have already had at the site for years?" asked David Casselman, one of the attorneys for the residents, during the hearing at the Airport Hilton in Burbank.

AQMD senior manager Ben Shaw responded, "There is a risk if we do nothing . . . a non-project is not a choice."

Lockheed officials say the chances of anyone developing cancer are 3 in 1 million after a lifetime of exposure to the proposed system. That statistic, however, is of little comfort, say the people who live nearby.

"Lockheed contaminated the water and contaminated the ground and now wants to contaminate the air. It's the only thing left. It's ridiculous," said neighbor Dan Fournier, 26.

Caught in the middle are officials with the AQMD, the regional agency that regulates air pollution. The city also has an interest because a cleanup plan must be in place before the property can be redeveloped. City officials are looking for an outside consultant to review Lockheed's plan.

Burbank Mayor Bill Wiggins had previously asked: "What authority does the city have to tell the AQMD to turn these permits down?"

Very little, according to Benjamin Kaufman, an attorney hired by the city to review Lockheed's cleanup effort. "The city's ability to second-guess the AQMD on matters the state of California has said are AQMD matters is limited," he said.

About the only authority the city has, Kaufman added, is to approve or deny a permit to build the 50-foot tower.

The AQMD contends that the project uses the best available technology and meets the agency's regulations for treating chemicals in the soil, such as carbon tetrachloride, chloroform and methylene chloride. But the agency has not issued Lockheed a permit yet, citing the public concern.

Vapor extraction systems are typically used by oil companies. Volatile organic compounds are removed from contaminated soil by underground wells, then filtered and released into the air.

About 98% of the treated contaminants in this case will be captured, said Carol Yuge, a Lockheed spokeswoman. The remainder will be pumped into the air 24 hours a day over the next seven to 10 years, she said.

City officials are anxious to clean up the 90-acre site, which they hope will become a center for retailers, post-production studios and light industry. However, Lockheed has been slow in selecting a developer, frustrating some at City Hall.

Said Wiggins: "For every month or two months or three months it takes to pick a developer, the retail market that could go on that site is less and less because (retailers) locate somewhere else."

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