Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

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.

EPA sampling found dactyl, diazinon, chlorpyriphos and mevinphos at the site. They're pesticides, insecticides, herbicides. Chlorpyriphos is classified by the EPA as moderately toxic. Dow Chemical sold it under the names Dursban and Lorsban, and it's the most interesting one. 

Chloropyriphos is a neurotoxin. Studies about pregnant migrant workers (likely exposed on the job) have found elevated motor and cognitive delays, low birth weight, birth defects and other problems associated with exposure. Seven years after the proposed listing of the Stoker site, U.S. News and World Report investigated the use of chlorpyrifos. An article in that magazine found that half of California school districts surveyed used the stuff. Dow AgroSciences reported more than 7,000 incidents of adverse reactions to the chemical to the EPA in 7 years after the proposed listing for this site. 

Dow still sells Dursban, for some purposes. A personal injury law firm that solicits cases related to Dursban exposure notes that it was banned 11 years ago. The thing is, people who had the pesticide didn't have to destroy what they had. Instead, chemical makers just had to stop making it. 

The family that had the pond left the property. The workers were exposed. More than a hundred people lived near the site. A 1994 preliminary health impact study by the California Department of Health Services recommended more sampling: of water, ducks, and fish in Imperial County. But that study also noted that aerial contamination from pesticide sprays "is a regional problem, not a site specific one."

Reading the report, it's easy to see that the momentum that brought Stoker to the attention of the federal government petered out once evidence failed to materialize that directly and solely connected the company to major and widespread environmental and health impacts. State public health officials suggested seeking more evidence. 

The pond was closed. Contaminated soil got removed from the site. Superfund - not any one company - paid for all investigation activities. Community and environmental justice advocates continue to press local, state and federal authorities to enforce health and air quality standards in Imperial County. President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson - and Region 9 administrator Jared Blumenfeld - have emphasized an interest in cleaning up toxic messes in poor and rural communities. 

Still and all, in the absence of more data, California's public health assessment document - the final in the Superfund file for Stoker - reads like a paperback from which the ending is missing. 


(Photo of Lorsban by PNASH via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.)