Residents seeking answers about Santa Clarita’s so-called “toxic donut hole,” should have two opportunities Thursday, officials said.
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Santa Clarita is hosting a multijurisdictional task force meeting at City Hall on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., and later the same day, the Whittaker Bermite Citizens Advisory Group is meeting 7-9 pm at the Santa Clarita United Methodist Church at 26640 Bouquet Canyon Road (at Espuella Road).
Jose Diaz, project manager for the Department of Toxic Substance Control, who oversees the investigation and cleanup of the Whittaker Bermite facility, will be at both meetings, he said.
The 996-acre plot in the middle of Santa Clarita — which is where its nickname comes from — was split into seven OUs, or operable units, including the groundwater, which is considered the seventh unit.
Only about 120 acres are contaminated, Diaz said, and of that land, about 20 acres have been cleaned.
The goal for the cleanup is 2016, federal officials said.
The history of Whittaker-Bermite
The Bermite Powder Co., and Halifax Powder Co. before it, manufactured explosives, flares and small munitions in Saugus, on the parcel just southeast of Bouquet Junction, from at least the early 1930s to 1987, according to SCVHistory.com.
Bermite and the Saugus property played an important role in the needs of the U.S. military during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict, the site states.
For example, the most widely used air-to-air missile in the West, Raytheon’s AIM-9 Sidewinder, started production in 1953 at China Lake and used a Hercules/Bermite MK-36 solid-fuel rocket engine that would have been tested and manufactured at the Saugus plant.
However, there weren’t really guidelines for the disposal of those materials at the time and, before laws banning such action were implemented, the property’s owners would often burn waste or use nearby canyons as a dumping ground, Diaz said.
The result was soil contamination that federal officials are in the process of cleaning up.
“Right now, they’re in the process of doing a lot of preparation for the implementation of the remedial action plan for operable units 2-6,” Diaz said.
Whittaker Corp. agreed to pay a fine of nearly a half-million dollars in April 1998, when DTSC determined the company mishandled toxic and hazardous materials on the property, according to SCVHistory.com.
Contamination through VOCs and perchlorates
There are two types of contaminants that exist on the land — perchlorates, an inorganic chemical used in the manufacture of solid rocket fuel and other explosives, believed to harm the thyroid gland, and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, Diaz said.
In OU 5, there’s no landfill, he said. The majority of the landfills are in OU4 and OU3.
In total, only about 500 acres of the 996-acre plot are developable, Diaz said, according to an estimate given to developers when they looked at the land’s potential. That’s due to the existence of ridgelines, streams and other parcels that could make development difficult cost prohibitive.
“Out of those 400 acres, 120 or so are contaminated,” Diaz said, “and perhaps 10-15 acres would have to be restricted usage.”
Most of those areas lie in OU3, which is colloquially known as Burned Valley.
“It’s an area where they burned waste and buried the ashes,” Diaz said, referring to past users of the land.
Some of the difficulty in the cleanup for the land that’s expected to remain restricted is the type of soil in the OUs, Diaz said.
“When you have solvents, you want to find sandy soil so you can extract them,” Diaz said, “but here you have a lot of clay.”
“And (Burned Valley) is in a canyon, so you’d have to move two ridges out of the way (to fully clean the area),” he said.
The cleanup of Whittaker Bermite
There’s no reason for federal officials to doubt their 2016 deadline, Diaz said, although he added that a portion of the land could always be subject to restricted usage.
“There are some areas that they may not be able to develop,” Diaz said, referring to potential plans for the area’s future.
Some of the OUs have clay-like soil, which is harder to clean than sandy soil, Diaz said.
In those areas, DTSC officials are doing the best they can due to the necessity to handle the contamination carefully, so as not to spread the pre-existing damage.
“Because of air pollution rules, we have to operate a soil vapor extraction system,” Diaz said. “Essentially, we suck out the contaminants out of the ground with a vacuum and the air is filtered.”
But even with state of the art cleaning methods, the depth of the contamination in some areas is expected to leave problems behind long after the cleanup is completed.
“So they may not be able to clean (all of) it — so there won’t be unrestricted use,” he said, “it could be restricted for roads or commercial or open space.”
Officials still are developing a plan for the cleanup of the water in the area, Diaz said, and when the remedy is ready, a public meeting will be held to seek community input.
That’s expected to take place in May, he said.
The entire process, which DTSC officials have been involved in since the 1980s, will have to be completed before any approvals or zoning of the land can be completed, Diaz said.
The “drop-dead deadline” is 2019, Diaz said, because that’s when the insurance purchased by Whittaker when it sold the property in 1999 runs out.
“That’s really truly the drop dead deadline,” he said.
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Source: Santa Clarita News