Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Progress Report 2010:
Congress passed the Superfund law in 1980, giving EPA responsibility for cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites, enforcement authority to get responsible parties to pay for cleanups, and funding to get the job done quickly when there’s an imminent threat to human health or the environment. Cleanup sites range from abandoned mines to schools where students have spread mercury contamination by playing with the toxic liquid metal.
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In 2009, funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act accelerated the ongoing cleanup work at Iron Mountain Mine near Redding, Calif., and dozens of short-term cleanups of soil contaminated by leaking underground fuel tanks at abandoned gas stations.
In the last few years, EPA’s Pacific Southwest office has pioneered “cleaner cleanups,” where environmental impacts are minimized by, for instance, using solar power generated on-site, as at the Aerojet site near Sacramento, Calif.
Disasters like wildfires, floods and tsunamis can leave containers of fuel and other toxics scattered over a wide area. EPA responds quickly, sending On-Scene Coordinators to organize collection and safe disposal of such toxic debris.
Solar-Powered Cleanup at Aerojet Superfund Site
The Aerojet General Corp. Superfund site is a contaminated groundwater site near Rancho Cordova, Calif., east of Sacramento. The plume of contaminated groundwater is nearly 27 square miles in size, including a portion beneath the American River. Since 1953 Aerojet and its subsidiaries have manufactured liquid and solid fuel rocket engines on the site. About 1,200 people are employed there.
In the 1950s through the 1970s, the facility dumped hazardous wastes in surface ponds, landfills, deep injection wells, and leach fields, polluting the groundwater, which ultimately reached the river. Today, a new solar-powered system is pumping and treating the contaminated groundwater, gradually restoring it to drinking water quality.
Since the site was listed on EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List in 1983, the company has investigated the extent of the groundwater contamination, and built treatment systems to restore the aquifer. This effort requires pumping and treating millions of gallons of water every day, and will continue for decades.
Contaminated groundwater is gradually being restored to drinking water quality.
Cleanups like this have a significant indirect environmental impact that wasn’t considered when the pump-and-treat systems were built: The electricity to run them 24/7 year after year comes from remote power plants, either burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, or from hydroelectric dams.
To mitigate some of these environmental impacts, Aerojet partnered with their electricity provider, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and a solar development company, Solar Power, Inc. to commission and build a 40-acre photovoltaic power array, which converts sunlight into electricity. The first phase broke ground in June 2009, and was completed in November. The array uses a single-axis tracking system to follow the sun through the day to maximize electricity production. The array is made up of more than 11,000 panels with a capacity to generate 3.6 megawatts.
A second phase of the solar “farm” will be completed by summer 2010. Its final generating capacity will be 6.0 megawatts, using almost 30,000 panels, making this the largest single-site industrial solar-powered system in California, and the largest at a Superfund site in the country. The system will provide more than 20% of the electricity required to operate the groundwater remediation system at Aerojet. It sits on land that was otherwise considered difficult to sell or develop due to the ongoing Superfund cleanup. EPA and state officials worked with Aerojet to build the solar facility in a location that minimized environmental impacts and doesn’t hinder ongoing cleanup activities.
During its first year at full power, the system will generate enough clean power to offset enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollutants that would have been emitted using power from generating plants burning fossil fuel. EPA’s online Power Profiler estimates the annual emissions prevented for power used in the Rancho Cordova area at 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 4 tons of sulfur dioxide and 5 tons of nitrogen oxide. With a life expectancy of 25 years for the new solar array, it adds up to a significant environmental benefit while protecting the valuable groundwater resources.
Iron Mountain Mine: Recovery Act Funding Advances Cleanup
Mining was a mainstay of the California economy for a century, starting with the Gold Rush of 1849. But the environmental costs of historic mining have come due at places like the Iron Mountain Mine near Redding, California, where EPA’s ongoing efforts to protect the Sacramento River from the mine’s toxic runoff accelerated in 2009 thanks to new federal funding.
In April 2009, EPA received $20.7 million in funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to speed the long-term cleanup of zinc and copper-contaminated sediments from the Iron Mountain Mine Superfund Site. Rick Sugarek, EPA’s project manager for more than 20 years, and Cynthia Wetmore, construction manager for the site for 17 years, put the money to work almost immediately, building a system to dredge and remove contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Spring Creek Arm of Keswick Reservoir on the Sacramento River, which received the mine’s toxic runoff for more than 40 years.
The Recovery Act funds, along with another $23 million provided by EPA, are paying workers to build and operate a system of dredges, pumping stations and pipelines to remove the toxic sludge and transport it to 12-acre, plastic-lined pits for permanent disposal. When the removal is finished in 2011, 18 months ahead of the original schedule, the filled pit will be capped with clay, soil and plants, to keep the contaminated soil in place. Construction was completed in September 2009, a year ahead of schedule. By December, dredging had already removed about one third of the sludge.
Seven-square-mile Iron Mountain, mined for iron, silver, gold, copper, zinc and pyrite from the 1860s to 1963, is honeycombed with tunnels and pits. By 1940, the mine’s toxic runoff was dumping a ton of toxic dissolved metals a day into local creeks and the Sacramento River, polluting a drinking water supply used by thousands of people and sometimes killing the river’s prized salmon.
World’s Most Acidic Water
Pyrite, exposed to water and air, produces sulfuric acid. This acid seeps through the mountain and leaches out copper, cadmium, zinc and other heavy metals. The resulting toxic brew—the most acidic water naturally found on earth—once flowed into sections of three creeks before reaching the river, virtually eliminating aquatic life.
In the 1950s, Keswick Dam was built on the Sacramento, downstream from these creeks. Fish kills were reduced, but not eliminated. In 1983, EPA designated the Iron Mountain Mine as a Superfund site. Since 1986, EPA has overseen many actions at the site to reduce the toxic runoff, and treat the remaining flows to remove contaminants. After completion of a treatment plant in 1994, these actions now capture 98% of the toxics coming out of the mine.
Before the treatment plant was built, heavy metals precipitated into a sludge and fell to the bottom of the Spring Creek Arm of the reservoir, accumulating 200,000 cubic yards of toxic sludge that could threaten salmon if a major storm were to erode the bottom sediment.
Recovery Act Accelerates UST Cleanups, Protects Groundwater
Throughout the Pacific Southwest, groundwater is an important drinking water source. In many places, it’s threatened by hydrocarbon fuels seeping from leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) at abandoned gas stations and other fuel tank sites. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided $200 million nationwide, and more than $21 million in the Pacific Southwest, to clean up these sites. This vitally important work is also delivering on the promise of stimulating the slumping economy and employing people throughout the region.
|UST Recovery Act Funding Allocations to Pacific Southwest States & Territories|
|Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands||$57,000|
For example, a former bulk fuel storage site was left vacant for years in Ashland Park, near San Leandro, Calif. Redevelopment was hampered by the need for site assessment and cleanup. There was no responsible party capable of funding the cleanup. In 2009 the California State Water Resources Control Board granted Recovery Act funds to the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District to clean up the site. The cleanup has cleared the way for redevelopment. Plans call for construction of a youth center, a twoacre park and a school gymnasium.
In 2010, California plans to use more than $15 million in Recovery Act funds to assess and clean up at least 10 additional UST sites. Investing in these cleanups will jump-start other jobs and investments in communities throughout California.
Throughout the country, Recovery Act funds are being used by EPA in partnership with states, tribes and territories to finance UST cleanups. In the Pacific Southwest, cleanups are underway in Arizona, California and on tribal lands, and are about to begin in Nevada, Hawaii and island territories in the Pacific. Through the Recovery Act, EPA is putting people to work and protecting the environment.
EPA Funds Los Angeles Conservation Corps’ Green Building Job Training
EPA awarded the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) a total of $700,000 in Brownfields job training grants in 2009 to recruit and train residents from the city’s impoverished Empowerment Zone for environmental careers.
With this funding, LACC is training 160 participants, and hopes to place at least 130 graduates in environmental technician jobs. The training program includes 254-hour and 400-hour training cycles in hazardous waste operations, environmental technologies, lead and asbestos abatement, refinery safety overview, forklift training and general industry standards. Four certifications will be offered.
As part of the program, LACC is collaborating with the LA Housing Partnership (LAHP) to provide skilled workers to help revitalize low-income housing areas across the city. The inner city neighborhood where work started on the first construction project has significant populations of Mexican, Central American, Filipino, Armenian, Korean, Thai, Cambodian, African and Chinese immigrants. More than 80% of the residents of the district are renters, with 40% of children living in low-income households below the federal poverty threshold
Green Senior Housing
The development, Rosewood Gardens, will be a 100% affordable senior housing development. The builders are pursuing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification for mid-rise homes. The building on Rosewood Avenue will have 54 one-bedroom apartments, a learning center, library, laundry rooms, a central landscaped courtyard, private “porches” and balconies and a large community center at street level. A large open space and “promenade” visually joins the new development with the adjacent Rosewood Methodist church in a landscaped buffer between the two buildings. The new building draws inspiration from the existing church architecture.
Rooftop solar panels will provide on-site energy generation and solar thermal water heating. When complete, the development is expected to be the first certified LEED for Homes mid-size building in southern California.
The LAHP plans to educate residents to use the “green” features and live sustainably. Every resident will attend a “green orientation” when they move in, to learn about the importance of recycling and how to do it, how to dispose of toxic trash so that it does not end up in the city’s landfills, and how to conserve energy and water. The residents will also learn how to buy and use non-toxic cleaners and household materials, and to optimize ventilation.
One of the building’s green features is the location: it’s an urban infill site in a densely developed area, reducing the residents’ need for cars. It has a partial green roof, drought-tolerant landscaping, on-site solar power and solar hot water; individual heating, ventilation and cooling for each unit, on-site filtration of storm water, designated recycling and bicycle storage rooms, natural ventilation in entrance lobby and stairs, Energy Star appliances and electrical fixtures, dual flush toilets and water-saving fixtures. Builders are using no tropical wood, reducing construction waste and recycling 90% of the remainder.
EPA Adds B.F. Goodrich Site to Superfund List to Expedite Cleanup
In January 2010, after adding the site to the Superfund National Priorities List, EPA released a proposal for an initial groundwater cleanup project at the B.F. Goodrich site. EPA placed the site on the list after contaminated groundwater forced the closure of drinking water wells in the western San Bernardino County, Calif., community of Rialto. Superfund is the EPA program that cleans up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites while pursuing reimbursement from responsible parties.
“Adding the B.F. Goodrich site to the Superfund list gives EPA the needed tools to clean it up,” says Keith Takata, EPA Deputy Regional Administrator in the Pacific Southwest. “EPA is committed to making sure that the cost of cleanup is borne by those responsible for the contamination.”
Since the 1940s, the B.F. Goodrich site was used to store, test and manufacture munitions, rocket fuel and fireworks by the government and businesses. The area’s groundwater is contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchlorate, forcing the closure of public drinking water supply wells.
Work done at the site by EPA in 2009 includes installation of six 900-foot deep groundwater monitoring wells, testing of 14 existing groundwater wells, and soil and soil gas testing at a disposal pit used by the B.F. Goodrich Corp. in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
TCE and perchlorate contamination has resulted in the closure of public drinking water wells.
The 160-acre site was part of a larger area acquired by the U.S. Army in 1942 for an inspection and storage facility for rail cars hauling munitions to the Port of Los Angeles. After the Rialto property was sold in 1946, it was used by munitions manufacturers, fireworks manufacturers and other businesses that used perchlorate. In 1956 and 1957, West Coast Loading Corp. manufactured two products containing potassium perchlorate. From about 1957 to 1962, B.F. Goodrich Corp. produced rocket fuel there containing ammonium perchlorate, and used TCE in the manufacturing process. After that, the site was used by companies that manufactured or sold fireworks.
Beginning in 2002, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board worked to investigate and clean up the site. Since then, EPA has spent approximately $6 million to complete soil and groundwater testing, develop a cleanup plan and pursue enforcement efforts at the site.
Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is a metal cleaning solvent. Drinking or breathing high levels of trichloroethylene can damage the nervous system, liver and lungs. Perchlorate is an ingredient in solid rocket fuel and many pyrotechnics, and can affect the thyroid gland. Nationwide, 1,607 sites have been placed on the National Priorities List, of which 105 are in California. Construction of cleanup facilities and infrastructure has been completed at about 2/3 of the 1,607 sites.
Emergency Response: Earthquake, Tsunami Hit American Samoa
At 6:48 on the morning of September 29, 2009, a massive magnitude 8.1 earthquake shook American Samoa, with an epicenter about 120 miles southwest of the islands. Twenty minutes later, a tsunami followed, striking American Samoa with a series of four to five waves of 15 to 20 feet. Damage was widespread. Local authorities reported 33 people killed.
American Samoa, a territory of the U.S., is in the South Pacific, almost 5,000 miles from the EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office. The territory consists of five rugged, volcanic islands and two coral atolls, with a population of about 60,000 people, mostly indigenous Samoans.
Within five hours of the incident, EPA deployed Lance Richman to the FEMA Regional Response Coordination Center in Oakland to coordinate EPA’s part in the federal response. EPA’s Regional Emergency Operations Center was activated. Soon afterward, FEMA tasked EPA with assessing the tsunami’s impacts on oil storage facilities and toxic hazardous materials, and collecting and stabilizing the “hazmat.”
EPA responders collect hazardous waste after a devastating tsunami.
EPA sent On-Scene-Coordinator Chris Reiner to American Samoa to start the work. Reiner worked with American Samoa EPA (A.S. EPA) on the assessment and collection of containers holding toxics and household hazardous waste. Reiner and Duane Newell from EPA’s Environmental Response Team assembled a hazardous materials task force with the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team, the Hawaii National Guard Civil Support Team, and contractors. They responded to oil spills, collected household chemicals in devastated villages, pulled 55-gallon drums off beaches and sidewalks, and rounded up many other containers of toxics. They took everything to a staging area for identification and storage.
In three weeks, the hazmat team collected 50 drums of hazardous chemicals (about 35 of which were waste oil); 165 car and boat batteries; 20 gallons of acids; 300 gallons of paint-related wastes; 50 compressed gas tanks and cylinders; and hundreds of smaller containers of hazardous wastes.
Reiner and A.S. EPA met with local village chiefs and advised them on separating hazardous materials from other debris. They visited each village affected by the tsunami, and set up household hazardous waste collection sites.
There were many challenges. A week after the first earthquake, a severe aftershock occurred, triggering a tsunami watch. All EPA operations ceased while crews moved to high ground for safety. The American Samoa Power Authority was concerned about the structural integrity of a dam, and wanted to lower the reservoir level by releasing water into a stream. But the stream was full of trash and debris from the tsunami. Reiner and his team assessed the stream to see what this new flow might wash into Pago Pago Harbor. They located an oil leak coming from a damaged shipping container that had been thrown about 1/4 mile inland, ending up wedged against a tree and bridging the stream. A.S. EPA built a series of small rock dams and placed absorbent pads, which stopped the oil spill until the USCG Pacific Strike Team could remove its source.
EPA returned to American Samoa in January 2010 to complete the sorting, packing and shipment of the collected hazardous materials for recycling and disposal off-island.
Michelle Rogow: Managing Urgent Toxic Cleanups
For the past 11 years, Michelle Rogow has been an On-Scene Coordinator for EPA’s Superfund Program. She oversees cleanups at sites where toxics pose an imminent threat to human health and the environment— like the abandoned Altoona Mercury Mine in Northern California’s Trinity Alps, near Mount Shasta. During 2008 and 2009, Michelle directed a crew of up to 50 people who removed 143,000 cubic yards of mercury- laden waste from a creekbed and the surrounding area.
From July through November 2008, Michelle lived at the isolated site in the Shasta–Trinity National Forest along with the crew, in modular housing units that were trucked to the site. In addition to overseeing the cleanup, she oversaw the construction and maintenance of the camp, including cooking and cleaning staff, water supply and waste disposal. The nearest neighbor was eight miles away.
The crew worked six days a week, giving them only one day to go into town, or to stay in the national forest and hike around Mt. Shasta to a nearby lake, as Michelle often did. “It was a good balance to my city life the rest of the year,” she says. “I enjoyed that area, every day experiencing the reason why we work at EPA—a natural and beautiful ecosystem.”
Mercury cleanup sites can range from abandoned mines to busy high schools.
Michelle started her EPA career in the Mid- Atlantic Regional Office in Philadelphia, while she was a civil engineering student at Drexel University. Drexel is a co-op university, where students work at full-time jobs in their field for half of each year. After graduation in 1994, she traveled across America and decided to stay in San Francisco, where she began working as a Superfund enforcement investigator in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office.
Michelle became an On-Scene Coordinator in 1999, and since then she has led numerous emergency responses and cleanups. At these sites she has directed a wide variety of activities, from oil spill response and cleanup to landfill firefighting to creek restoration. In 2009 she responded to Avondale, near Phoenix, Ariz., to oversee a cleanup of mercury that high school students had spread around their school and community. As in many of the mercury spill cleanups Michelle has led, students had contaminated their clothing, personal items, and, in some cases, their homes. In addition to decontaminating the school, Michelle’s team tested the clothing of approximately 500 students and faculty, and also tested 62 homes. Three of them had to be evacuated due to high levels of mercury contamination.
When she’s not on-site on the U.S. mainland, Michelle coordinates emergency cleanups in the Pacific Islands, including American Samoa, Guam and Saipan. As a result of her experience on Saipan cleaning up 25 sites contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) using a thermal desorption unit, she travelled to China last year to advise the Ministry of Environmental Protection on their plans to clean up PCB waste. With Michelle’s help, the Chinese agency bought their own desorption unit and will begin operations this year.
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