California regulators have fined the Ventura County fire department $354,100 for the inadequate treatment of polluted groundwater during the cleanup of an underground storage tank in Thousand Oaks.
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board announced the fine Thursday, citing the department for 125 state water code violations. The board said that the Ventura County Fire Protection District had discharged nearly 330,000 gallons of polluted groundwater from Station No. 30 on Hillcrest Drive into a storm drain that empties into Calleguas Creek between August 2001 and January 2004.
The groundwater had elevated levels of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether, petroleum hydrocarbons, grease, benzene and other pollutants, according to regulators. MTBE helps engines produce less smog but has contaminated groundwater supplies nationwide. It has been shown to cause cancer in animals and is a possible carcinogen for humans.
"Calleguas Creek provides critical habitat for plants and animals and recreational opportunities for residents.... It also serves to replenish aquifers, which supply much-needed potable water," board Chairman David Nahai said in a statement.
Michael LaPlant, who serves as fire chief for Thousand Oaks and has worked at Station No. 30 for years, said the department is working with the county's Public Works Agency to clean the water.
"The problem tank has long been removed," he said. "We're certainly committed to cleaning it up ... and are as interested in doing this correctly as anyone else."
Jonathan Bishop, the board's executive officer, said Ventura County has 90 days to appeal. The county initially faced more than $4 million in penalties, but regulators took into account fire officials' effort to fix the problem, he said.
"When we have a discharger with this many violations, we feel it's important not only to work with them to get into compliance, but also to [impose] monetary penalties," he said. "We essentially want to send a message that we will not tolerate continued violations."