Southern California environment news and trends

Superfund site of the week: Polluters paying in the San Gabriel Valley

This week we continue looking at the Superfund site that is the San Gabriel valley, or a fifth of it, anyway. 

(Read last week's intro to this Superfund site.)

The polluter pays principle is a big part of Superfund law and it's important at this site. It's pretty straightforward: You make a big huge toxic, hazardous, cancerous mess? You're on the hook for putting everything back as close to the way it was as possible. 

The San Gabriel Valley is more or less in favor of cleaning up the Superfund site there lake this. It wasn't always that way; federal and local governments once were divided about taking money out of the pockets of corporate citizens of the valley. Local public officials criticized the federal government's interest in shaking the polluter-money tree. In the mid-1990's, Democratic congressman Esteban Torres wrote, "After 10 years of confusion, power struggles and bureaucratic inaction, the community in the San Gabriel Valley is no longer convinced that Superfund, under the direction of the EPA, is going to solve their problem."


Superfund site of the Week: (Almost a fifth of) The San Gabriel Valley

(Photo by Patricia Mateos Ballestero for The Toxies via Physicians for Social Responsibility.)


In commemoration of news that the Environmental Protection Agency got $4.4 million and change to help pay for cleanup costs at this site, Pacific Swell's Superfund site of the week is the San Gabriel Valley. (It'll be next week's too, in fact.)

We reported the EPA announcement of two consent decrees - civil settlements in which companies that in the past operated on land and may have polluted it agree to give the government money to clean it up to resolve their liability. To understand why the EPA went after those companies, it's helpful to take the Wayback Machine to 1979, where, though it was the year of Blondie's "The Tide is High," other important things happened.

That's when evidence of contamination first showed up in a San Gabriel Valley water well. It was connected to a massive aquifer in the valley - think water reservoir, but underground. But much as you can't really dust for vomit (R.I.P, Stumpy Joe), tracing the source of chemicals in a massive reservoir underground ain't easy.


Superfund site of the Week: Stoker Chemical in Imperial County

Without further ado, we're presenting this week's Superfund site a few days late. (Ado, in this case, being illness and earthquakes.)

What's interesting about the Stoker Company site isn't just that it's the only one in Imperial County. Stoker remains a proposed site, 20 years after it was listed on the federal register. 

Dead birds and fish brought the Stoker Company to the attention of local authorities in the late eighties. The dead wildlife was found in a pond, known as the D &K Duck Hunting Club; necropsies found pesticides in the wildlife. Officials traced the pesticides to a canal that edged the Stoker property on the south and eastern side. Stoker workers - there were 45 back in 1990 - rinsed off pesticide spraying equipment and the wash water ran off into the canal. Contamination spread over much of the site; contaminated dust became airborne and spread as well.


Superfund site of the Week: Westminster's Ralph Gray Trucking, a (rare) success story

This week, in an exciting and daring change of pace, we're going to take a look at a site where Superfund has worked. In Orange County, in the city of Westminster, federal environmental officials placed the former Ralph Gray Trucking Facility on the national priorities list, and cleaned it up in what was then record time. It's our Superfund Site of the Week.

If you hear the phrase "open unlined pits," be afraid. Be very afraid. Ralph Gray was a trucking company in Long Beach. It owned a field in what's now Westminster, near Sowell Avenue and Golden West Street. And sometime in the thirties, the company dumped about "45,000 cubic yards of petroleum products of unknown origin" into those pits. 

The federal register notice for the site points out that Westminster officials told the trucking company to get lost, and the Judicial Court of Huntington Beach Township convicted the owner in 1936 for maintaining a public nuisance at the site. On the other hand, he didn't have to move it.


Superfund site of the week: 3 reasons CERCLA cleanups matter to California

Missing in action last week was our regular Superfund Site of the Week feature. That's because I was missing in action, enjoying a rustic beach-house vacation that involved no Internet. So this week Pacific Swell decided to reset what Superfund is all about. I'm back explaining what it is and giving you three reasons to care in California. 

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, the state with the greatest number of sites under federal Environmental Protection Agency supervision is…New Jersey. 112 sites. (I just haven't got the heart for the obvious joke, maybe because I'm a huge fan of Wiliam Carlos Williams, who proves that the Garden state incubates beauty, too.) But don't worry, Californians! We're third in hazardous wastes. (What up, steel industry!) One behind Pennsylvania, California has 94 Superfund sites to its credit. Sheer volume isn't your big reason to pay attention, though.