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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Addressing Chromium Contamination
in the San Fernando Valley

About Chromium

Chromium III, or trivalent chromium, is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, animals, plants, soil, and in volcanic dust and gases. Chromium VI, or hexavalent chromium, is used in metal alloys such as stainless steel; protective coatings on metal; magnetic tapes; and pigments for paints, cement, paper, rubber, composition floor covering and other materials. Its soluble forms are used in wood preservatives and leather tanning.

In California, the drinking water standard for total chromium (chromium III and chromium VI combined) is 50 parts per billion. The State has initiated the process to adopt a Public Health Goal for hexavalent chromium, which will then lead to the promulgation of a drinking water standard for the chemical.

Testing in the early 1980s revealed volatile organic compound (VOC) contamination in the groundwater beneath large areas of the San Fernando Valley. The primary contaminants of concern were the solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), widely used in variety of industries including metal plating, machinery degreasing, and dry cleaning. In response to this contamination, the EPA placed four area-wide groundwater sites in the San Fernando Valley on the National Priorities List and subsequently implemented three pump-and-treat systems to contain the solvent contamination and provide clean drinking water.

EPA first detected chromium contamination in the San Fernando Valley Superfund sites in 1989. Following this discovery, the agency began a monitoring program for chromium. 1998, EPA began funding a four-year chromium source investigation through the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). In 1999, EPA began quarterly monitoring for hexavalent chromium (also referred to as chromium VI or CrVI), the predominant form of chromium in groundwater in the basin. Although not as wide-spread or continuous as the solvent plume, the area of groundwater contaminated with chromium is significant.

  • To view the presentations and posters presented at the March 10, 2008 San Fernando Valley Chromium Workshop, please see the San Fernando Valley Superfund Sites. You will find the information in the Site Overview under the Community Involvement Section.

Impacts on Cleanup Systems

In 2000, chromium began to affect the cleanup systems put in place earlier to contain and remove TCE and PCE contamination from the San Fernando Valley Superfund sites. In order to meet the voluntary chromium limits (5 parts per billion) adopted by the Cities of Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles, the pumping rates for certain extraction wells within each of the treatment systems were adjusted. At the same time, EPA provided financial support to the City of Glendale to investigate potential treatment technologies for removing chromium from drinking water.

In 2006, EPA developed a Chromium Action Plan, which presents a number of short-term and long-term actions that EPA, the state and the cities will take to address chromium contamination and its impact on drinking water in the basin. Later in 2006, chromium levels in one extraction well in the North Hollywood system rose sharply to over 200 parts per billion (ppb), far above the state drinking water standard of 50 ppb. This contamination appeared to come from the former Allied Signal facility located a short distance north of the well. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which operates the North Hollywood system, shut down the well, and the RWQCB subsequently amended the cleanup order for the former Allied Signal facility to require immediate action to address the chromium contamination.

Cleaning up the Sources

Cleaning up the sources of chromium contamination in the basin is a priority for EPA. To assist the Regional Water Quality Control Board with its ongoing chromium source investigations, EPA began funding a contractor in 2003. In 2007, the agency took the lead for cleanup work at All Metals Processing Company, a metal plating shop in Burbank that was abandoned by the owner. In earlier inspections, EPA had discovered hazardous chemicals seeping though the brick walls of the facility onto the ground outside and within 10 feet of a stormwater canal. Soils at this abandoned plating facility were highly contaminated with chromium VI, cadmium and cyanide. In 2007, EPA removed the drums and chemicals and demolished the contaminated building. The agency excavated soil to at least Three feet and up to 20 feet in highly contaminated areas.

EPA has also taken the lead role in the soil and groundwater investigations at the Drilube and Librascope facilities. EPA's focus is to remove the source of chromium contamination from the ground before it contaminates groundwater. Similar efforts by the state are happening at other chromium sources within the basin.

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