The Goodrich Corp. has agreed to pay at least $21.5 million to help clean up a giant perchlorate plume contaminating groundwater in the Rialto and Colton areas of San Bernardino County caused by Cold War-era munitions plants, federal authorities said Tuesday.
The total cleanup cost of the 160-acre Superfund site could exceed $100 million, with Goodrich, the U.S. Department of Defense and other firms responsible for the contamination picking up the tab, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The perchlorate and other hazardous substances leached into the groundwater on a site where firms had manufactured munitions, rocket propellant and, later, fireworks starting in the 1940s.
The contamination forced the small, blue-collar city of Rialto to shut down some of the city wells and import clean water. Arrowhead Regional Medical Center — a major trauma hospital in the region — also shut down one of its wells because of the pollutants.
"It's good for Rialto, obviously. We will have cleanup orders in place and therefore the contamination will be removed from the water," said Rialto City Atty. Jimmy Gutierrez. "It's not the endpoint. There's money in the pot, but the cleanup has yet to start."
Perchlorate is known to cause ailments including thyroid problems and, potentially, cancer, and is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, according to federal environmental authorities.
A study by the California Department of Public Health in 2012 found that drinking water supplied to Rialto residents between 1979 and 1997 may have contained perchlorate in high enough levels to affect thyroid glands.
It also found that drinking water supplied between 1981 and 1988 to some customers of the West Valley Water District, which provides water in Rialto, Colton and Fontana, may have contained perchlorate and other contaminants but could not determine if it was in high enough levels to be harmful.
Under the agreement announced Tuesday, Goodrich must install monitoring wells and continue groundwater and soils testing at the Superfund site. Once the results of that testing are in and the degree of contamination is known, the EPA will develop a comprehensive cleanup plan for the company.
Cleaning up the site is expected to take 30 years or more, said EPA project manager Wayne Praskins.
Praskins said another firm found responsible for the contamination, Emhart Industries, already has agreed to cleanse the groundwater of the hazardous pollutants — a process expected to cost about $40 million. The water, once treated and determined to meet all federal drinking water standards, will be piped into the Rialto city water supply, he said.
Under the consent decree, the EPA agreed to propose changing the name of B.F. Goodrich Superfund Site to the "Locust Avenue Superfund Site."
Officials from Goodrich, which combined with another firm and is now known as United Technologies Corp., could not be reached for comment.
Federal officials also have entered into settlement agreements with other companies found responsible for the contamination, including Emhart, Pyro Spectaculars Inc. and KTI Inc.
From 1957 to 1962, Goodrich Corp. operated on the site north of Rialto where it researched and made military ordnance, including solid rocket propellants. Perchlorate was used in those manufacturing operations. Goodrich and other firms operating on the site also contaminated the soil and groundwater with the solvent trichloroethylene, which could cause damage to the nervous system, liver and lungs.