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Agency Will Address Field Lab Cleanup

A public hearing tonight in Simi Valley will offer a progress report on efforts to rid the Rocketdyne testing site of perchlorate.

October 16, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

A state regulatory agency will hold a public meeting tonight at Simi Valley City Hall to discuss its latest efforts to ensure that Boeing cleans up perchlorate contamination at its Rocketdyne testing site.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control has ordered the defense contractor to begin drilling eight new wells on or near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory within 14 days to ensure the work is completed before the rainy season begins, said Gerard Abrams, who is overseeing the project for the agency.

The monitoring wells will measure the amount of perchlorate -- a highly toxic rocket propellant -- in the groundwater and will help officials better understand what direction the substance is migrating from the laboratory.

"To really get a handle on cleaning up a site with a setting like Rocketdyne, you really need to understand which pathways are contaminated and which ones aren't," Abrams said Wednesday.

Boeing Rocketdyne was given a 30-day deadline to submit a revised work plan outlining the steps it would take to determine the potential migration of perchlorate from the lab to off-site areas.

The contaminant was discovered earlier this year in a well about a mile away at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, a Jewish education center.

Perchlorate was used extensively at the rocket-testing location during the past five decades and was discovered in concentrations as high as 23,000 parts per billion in soil at the field laboratory, where the propellant was manufactured and stored, said Raymond Leclerc, a senior engineer with the toxic substances department.

Its highest level in water was 1,500 parts per billion, Abrams said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has said that perchlorate in drinking water higher than 1 part per billion is unsafe for humans. One part per billion is roughly equivalent to one drop of water in a home swimming pool, according to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Boeing has said it plans to shut down the Rocketdyne field lab by 2007 but must first receive clearance from numerous state and federal agencies. Cleaning up the pollution at the 2,800-acre lab is key to approval.

The state agency has given conditional approval to Boeing to clean up surface soils through a process called bioremediation, a relatively new technology that relies on naturally occurring organisms to transform the perchlorate into chlorine and water, said Thomas Seckington, a senior geologist with the department.

At Boeing's expense, contaminated soil will be excavated and rock will be chiseled and hammered from canyon walls and moved to an area where the process will take place.

The area to be treated covers about 1 1/2 acres and is 2 to 3 feet deep, Seckington said. Officials estimate the treatment process should take about six months.

Deeper soils and shallow groundwater will be addressed in a second phase, they said.

The public meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 2929 Tapo Canyon Road.

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