Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Perchlorate Contamination in California Well Has Mysterious Origins

by Duane Craig

Fireworks create perchlorate, which can lead to
thyroid issues and other contamination side effects.

In an unusual and secret confession, a woman reported that her husband had stored chemicals in a building at the epicenter of an Environmental Protection Agency investigation into perchlorate contamination in Barstow, California.

Thousands of residents were warned not to drink the water in November 2010 while the local water company shut down a contaminated well and the perchlorate was flushed from the water system pipes. During that event, the woman reported to the EPA coordinator that her husband, the deceased owner of a fireworks company, had stored chemicals in a building on Poplar Street. In March 2011 the EPA began sampling activities near, and on the property reported by the woman in November. The sampling covered 20 acres and included more than 50 samples. Perchlorate was found in the samples taken from the property the woman reported to the EPA. The EPA wouldn’t identify the woman but did commend her for coming forward with the information.

What is Perchlorate?

Perchlorate occurs naturally and is used to make rocket fuel, fireworks, flares, and explosives. It is also in bleach and in some fertilizers. The substance is thought to disrupt the thyroid’s activity, affecting the development of fetuses and infants.

Apparently the fire department kept records of the chemical storage going on at the property and it produced photos showing 55 drums that were kept there. Neighbors had complained about the chemical storage and the EPA discovered perchlorate in a garden area at one of the neighboring properties. In an eerie revelation, the on-scene coordinator for the EPA said while people remembered the chemicals being stored there, no one remembered how the containers left the property.

The EPA drawing funds from CERCLA?

The perchlorate found in the water well that was shut down was as high as 100 parts per billion. Private wells were also tested and two were found to also have high levels of perchlorate. Tap water at the nearby Marine base had three times the allowable level of substance. At the location where the chemicals were stored, the white, solid layer of the material is just below the ground surface and the team of investigators was drilling soil sample holes up to 15 feet deep to try to identify the extent of the contamination. In the absence of identifying a responsible party, the EPA could draw funds authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act to handle the cleanup costs. The onsite coordinator said the work could begin as soon as summer.

San Bernardino County is the largest county in the U.S. and is the second fastest-growing California county posting nearly a 20 percent increase in population since the last census. It is also the home of the community of Hinkley, where chromium VI contamination made headlines in the 1970s. In an interesting, but unrelated incident, the Bureau of Land Management is investigating a case of illegal dumping in the same county near Needles. Twelve barrels containing freon, used motor oil and solvent were discovered there March 22.
You can read various accounts of the story here, here and here.

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