Tour of contaminated Whittaker-Bermite meant to educate officials

[This article was published in the Santa Clarita Signal found here.]

Elected officials took a break from campaigning Wednesday to go on a guided tour of the contaminated – soon to be de-contaminated – area of Whittaker Bermite.

Tour participants got close and personal with the nearly 1,000 toxic acres in SCV’s center core Wednesday to see and hear for themselves how two decades of vigorous environmental cleanup was coming to a close.

Cleanup experts anticipate the site will be completely cleaned of toxic material – volatile organic compounds trapped in the soil, health hazardous perchlorate in the groundwater – to the satisfaction of state watchdogs at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control by 2020.

The Whittaker-Bermite location, nearly 1,000 acres in the center of Santa Clarita on the hills south and east of the Saugus Speedway, was a working munitions manufacturing site from the 1930s through 1980s. Its soil is contaminated in specific locations, and some of that contamination has leaked into the valley’s groundwater.

Explaining the cleanup to at least half a dozen November election candidates was their tour guide, Hassan Amini, operations manager and principal geologist for the cleaning crew contracted for the job, Amec Foster Wheeler.

The two tour buses made four stops on the site, the first being a spot overlooking a hillside of flexible tubing that funneled volatile organic compounds out of the ground and into a filter.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has paid particular attention to volatile organic compounds, commonly called VOCs, in two of Whitter-Bermite’s 7 operational areas, Operable Units 2 through 6.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary, room-temperature conditions.

Tour participants learned at their second tour stop that when the soil at Whittaker-Bermite is decontaminated, workers remove soil to a depth of 40 feet – 10 feet as a matter of protocol and an additional 30 feet in anticipation of future contractors digging that deep.

From a ridge overlooking a grid of “cells” containing contaminated soil – each cell was as large as the concrete foundation of an unfinished home and contained 900 tons of soil.  The cells covered an area larger than a football field.

Amini explained how “bugs” break down the contaminants in the soil and how, once all the nasty material is removed, results of the cleanup are sent to the Department of Toxic Substances.  Once approved by state officials, the soil is trucked away and dumped on a separate area on the Whittaker Bermite site, with none of the material leaving the site.

Congressman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, organized the instructional tour for the man recently named to the top post at the Army Corps of Engineers, Col. Kirk Gibbs, Commander, for the Corps’ Los Angeles District.

Knight then decided to invite others along for the field trip.

“He organized it to make sure this issue is well known to him (Gibbs),” said Daniel Outlaw, Knight spokesman Outlaw said.

The purpose of Wednesday’s tour of through Whittaker-Bermite – off limits to SCV residents and anyone else not invited by the Whittaker Corporation – was to physically introduce elected officials, Castaic Lake Water Agency heads and Army Corps of Engineers brass to the issue of percholorate.

“The purpose was to build working relationships and to work to a solution in ending the perchlorate contamination as well as build a greater supply of local drinking water for SCV,” said Outlaw.

The tour wrapped up at the Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant for the removal of harmful perchlorate from groundwater.  These are the vertical tanks commuters see coming and going from the Metrolink station on Soled Canyon Road.


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