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Spread of Toxic Substance Detected

State officials say Santa Clarita residents are not at risk from the perchlorate found in the groundwater near a former munitions plant.

September 06, 2003|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

A federal regulatory agency has detected the spread of perchlorate, a contaminant used in rocket fuel, in groundwater near the former Whittaker-Bermite munitions plant in Santa Clarita, officials said Friday.

But state officials contend that the contamination does not pose a health risk to city residents, who get their drinking water from other sources.

"The city residents are not drinking contaminated groundwater," said Sara Amir of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Perchlorate is a solvent used in the formation of rocket fuel. If ingested by humans, the inorganic contaminant is known to interfere with the thyroid's ability to produce hormones.

The recent detection of perchlorate in test wells in shallow groundwater tables shows that the plume of contamination has spread from a deeper aquifer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
P.R. billing controversy -- An article in Sunday's California section, about the son of a state senator billing San Bernardino County cities and water districts for work that his public relations firm performed on behalf of his lawmaker mother, incorrectly called perchlorate a solvent. Perchlorate, which has polluted groundwater in San Bernardino County, is an inorganic salt. The error was also made in articles about perchlorate on Aug. 23 and Sept. 6.

The discovery is a cause of concern for community residents, said Connie Worden-Roberts, chairwoman of the Whittaker Citizens Advisory Group.

"Currently, [the city is] not drawing contaminated water from wells that are used for Santa Clarita, but it poses a threat that must be addressed immediately," she said.

A massive cleanup effort is set to begin next month at the 996-acre site near the city's center. Since the munitions plant closed in 1989, the Toxic Substances Control department has investigated the property to classify and measure contaminants and determine removal methods, Amir said. The levels of perchlorate found in groundwater beneath the site were 9 parts per billion, far higher than the 4 parts per billion considered safe by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"This is a very complex site," Amir said. "The investigation that we are doing involves going hundreds of feet down and out into the soil to determine the vertical and lateral extent of the contamination."

Whittaker-Bermite is expected to begin the cleanup process in a one-acre area on the east side of the property, Amir said. Federal and state officials will monitor the progress, but no completion date has been set.

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