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Water board wraps chromium 6 investigation at Walt Disney Studios

August 24, 2012|By Richard Verrier
  • The Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank has been the subject of a Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board investigation of soil and groundwater contamination.
The Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank has been the subject of a Los Angeles… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

[UPDATE: A copy of a letter obtained by the Times, sent by Sam Unger, executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, to Disney, states: "Regional Board staff has reviewed the Report and finds that heavy metals, including hexavalent chromium, are within regulatory guidelines for an industrial and commercial land use scenario - the current designated zoning of the site." The letter states that the determination by the board applies to soil only.  "The Walt Disney Co. shall contact the Regional Board immediately if additional soil and groundwater contamination is discovered during any future site activities, or if The Walt Disney Company plans any changes of land use scenarios at the Site."]

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has concluded an investigation into contamination on the site of the Walt Disney Studios, a senior board official said.

The agency’s decision comes a day after The Times reported the board, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was investigating whether a vintage air conditioning system and cooling towers at Disney were the source of groundwater and soil contamination from chromium 6, a cancer-causing heavy metal.

Earlier this week, water board officials indicated they were weeks away from completing a review of environmental tests conducted by a firm hired by Disney to test soil and groundwater on the Burbank property.

On Friday, Sam Unger, the board's executive officer, told The Times that the board had completed its review of soil tests and concluded that levels of chromium 6 were within regulatory guidelines.

In an Oct. 18, 2010, letter to Robert Iger, president and chairman of Walt Disney Co., the water board wrote that it was investigating the company's water discharges, and cited a chemical questionnaire that indicated chromium 6 was "used and stored at [Disney's] 500 South Buena Vista facility."

The board also said Disney's consultants nearly two decades earlier had failed to supply specific water-quality data the board had requested to "evaluate the chromium contents of the discharge waters or the water in the onsite groundwater wells." The board ordered the company to submit a plan for testing soil and groundwater on the site.

Disney has denied using chromium compounds in its air conditioning system or cooling towers. The company said in a detailed response to the EPA on May 10, 2011, that it stored a small amount of chromium-based material used to clean equipment in film processing and that the hazardous waste was properly disposed of through the city of Burbank. Disney said tests of the wastewater discharge showed low levels of chromium that were "well within the effluent limitations allowed by the city of Burbank."

A consulting firm hired by Disney, concluded that chromium 6 was "detected in 97 of 139 soil samples," though most readings were below government health standards for industrial land use. Groundwater samples showed chromium 6 levels were below government standards.

The U.S. EPA recently added the Disney site to a list of facilities being investigated for possible chromium 6 contamination in the Burbank and Glendale area and announced plans to install monitoring wells to the east and west of the Disney site. A spokesman for the EPA said the agency's investigation was ongoing.

"We will take it into account," said Rusty Harris-Bishop, a spokesman for EPA's Superfund division in the Pacific Southwest region, of the water board's decision. "I don't think what the water board does has an impact on what we're doing."

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