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State Orders Testing of Ground Water

Quality control board seeks perchlorate information from Boeing, Simi Valley Landfill, Ahmanson Developer

Jan 28, 2003 | Ventura County Star State water-quality officials have ordered extensive research and testing of ground water in eastern Ventura County to determine the source and extent of chemical pollution found in wells in Simi Valley and adjacent to the Ahmanson Ranch project near Oak Park.

In the orders, sent to the Boeing Co., the Simi Valley Landfill and Ahmanson developer Washington Mutual, the regional Water Quality Control Board asked for a series of water tests and reviews of records relating to perchlorate, a chemical compound linked to thyroid cancer.

The research is a required preliminary to a possible cleanup and abatement order, or CAO, that could be applied to any or all of the three companies, officials said.

"At this point, we are assessing the need to issue a CAO to Ahmanson Land Co. or to the other two parties," water board director Dennis Dickerson wrote in a Jan. 7 letter to state legislators.

"The appropriateness of a CAO will be evaluated as part of the information gathering process and the level of response and cooperation we receive ... a CAO can be used as an appropriate enforcement tool."

Such an order would require the company or companies found responsible for the contamination to clean it up. The costs and time requirements of such a clean-up are unknown, officials said.

Perchlorate has been widely used in industrial processes, especially the testing and development of solid-fuel rockets, explosives and other ordnance. Last year, the chemical was found at a level seven times the state standard in a well adjacent to the 2,800-acre Ahmanson property.

The water was slated for irrigation uses in the planned 3,050-home development, although in December, Ventura County officials directed the well should be destroyed.

That well is to be re-tested under the supervision of the Water Quality board, officials said.

Perchlorate is found at Boeing's Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the Simi Hills, where state and federal agencies are overseeing a lengthy cleanup process.

It has also been found off the lab site, in wells in Simi Valley and Chatsworth.

"Boeing is a known source, and Ahmanson had a detection, so they were also sent a letter," said David Bacharowski, with the water agency. "We saw the need to get some additional samples."

Perchlorate contamination is slated to be discussed at a public hearing set for 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., in Thousand Oaks.

State officials expect to set a maximum level for exposure to perchlorate by January 2004. Seattle-based Washington Mutual has said it hopes to break ground on the Ahmanson Ranch project this year.

Officials with all three companies said Monday they expect to meet deadlines for coming back to the water agency with information.

"We intend to cooperate fully with the regional board and are in the process of preparing a response to their letter," Washington Mutual Vice President Tim McGarry said.

Company officials with Houston-based Waste Management Inc., which runs the Simi Valley Landfill, said the facility has not had any problems with perchlorate.

"We did a sampling last week, and we expect to get the results back next," landfill manager Scott Tignac said. "But we're required to monitor the ground water underneath the site, and we've never had a hit."

The state's deadlines range from next Monday to Feb. 28.

"Our technical folks are reviewing more than 1,600 soil, surface and ground-water reports, and they are reviewing a comprehensive report we will be submitting to the water board, probably on Monday," said Blythe Jameson, with Chicago-based Boeing's Rocketdyne division.

"This data will demonstrate that Rocketdyne is not the source of any of the perchlorate contamination found at Ahmanson or in Simi Valley."

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