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Glendale OKs Chromium 6 Pact

Health: In an agreement with the EPA, the city will mix tainted well water with imported supplies to dilute the metal's concentrations.

July 12, 2001|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Glendale has agreed to resume using water from long-dormant wells tainted with chromium 6, but will mix it with imported water to dilute concentrations of the heavy metal, federal officials said Wednesday.

Glendale's agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency appears to end a 10-month dispute between the city and regulators over the safety of the ground-water supply.

Water drawn from five Glendale wells with low chromium levels would be blended to create a solution not to exceed the city's informal chromium 6 standard of about 1 part per billion, EPA project manager David Stensby said.

The water from two other wells with higher chromium 6 levels would be used to cool Glendale's power plant and for other nondrinking purposes, Stensby said.

Glendale stopped pumping water from the wells in the early 1980s, after toxic solvents were found in the aquifer. It has since imported all of its water. In September, the EPA directed the city to begin using the wells again so the water could be treated and the spread of the solvents contained.

But the city has insisted that even the treated water might have unhealthful levels of chromium 6, a suspected carcinogen. Instead of delivering the treated water to homes and businesses, the city diverted it to the Los Angeles River.

Glendale officials also asked the EPA to close a new treatment plant and build a second one to remove the chromium 6 from the water. EPA officials rejected the request.

The agreement disclosed by federal officials Wednesday represents a softening in the EPA's stance.

"It's fair to say that it's a compromise from our original position," EPA attorney Marie Rongone said. She added, however, that "it doesn't prevent us from getting to our goal."

City Manager Jim Starbird and other Glendale officials declined to discuss specifics of the agreement, which was struck in private last month.

Glendale wells have been found to contain levels as high as 17 parts per billion. The wells are situated within the San Fernando Valley Superfund site, portions of which are contaminated and eligible for federal cleanup funds. The plume of toxic solvents stretches 13 miles through Glendale, Burbank and other parts of the eastern San Fernando Valley.

The practice of dumping the treated water has been criticized by Mel Blevins, who oversees ground-water pumping rights for the upper Los Angeles River area.

Blevins estimates that Glendale has dumped $2.8-million worth of water into the river since September.

Federal officials said Wednesday the agreement will allow them to gradually increase the amount of treated water while limiting discharges into the river.

Chromium 6, a chemical used in paint pigments, chrome plating and other manufacturing processes, has been detected in water systems statewide, including industrial areas of Los Angeles and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Scientists say the chemical can cause cancer when inhaled as a vapor, but disagree over safe limits when it is ingested in water.

Neither the state nor federal government specifically limits chromium 6 in water. Instead, both regulate total chromium as an indirect means of regulating chromium 6.

The federal government caps total chromium at 100 parts per billion, while California has set a tougher limit of 50 ppb. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommended an even stricter limit of 2.5 ppb to ensure optimum safety.

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