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Defense Firm to Aid Inquiry Into Industry Water Pollution

Jan 10, 2003 | Wall Street Journal A defense contractor handed local and state agencies an important victory in the spreading national battle over water pollution from perchlorate, agreeing to help clean Southern California water supplies and to help authorities identify possible polluters, Friday's Wall Street Journal reported.

The two-year agreement commits Goodrich Corp. to pay $4 million for treatment facilities to clean contamination in the so-called Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, where local officials say they're needed to ensure adequate drinking-water supplies this summer. Goodrich isn't admitting any responsibility for pollution in the pact, which a company spokeswoman confirmed was expected to be signed in the coming days.

But just as important, say California officials, the agreement pledges Goodrich's cooperation in identifying other parties responsible for perchlorate dumping in the region. That includes turning over access to its historical documents and scientific research expected by regulators to implicate other military contractors and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Perchlorate, the main oxidizer in solid rocket fuel, has turned up in water supplies in 22 states from California to Massachusetts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it's dangerous in drinking water in trace amounts, especially to babies. The Defense Department contends the substance is safe even in much larger amounts.

So far, the Pentagon has not accepted any responsibility for the area's perchlorate pollution, although the Army used a local site as a weapons depot in the 1940s. Local and state officials hope Goodrich's cooperation will help change the Pentagon's position by turning up documents showing the Army spilled perchlorate in the area during its use of the site. The officials also hope Goodrich and other defense contractors, if implicated as polluters, will have recourse to Defense Department cleanup funds as part of their original contracts.

Parts of the California counties of Riverside and San Bernardino east of Los Angeles have been particularly hard hit by contamination, which in the last give years has caused the closure of some 23 wells, or 52% of the area's water supply. Perchlorate was dumped there by fireworks and munitions manufacturers dating back to the 1940s, when it was not considered toxic.

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