Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Our Superfund site of the week gets $20 million for cleanup from Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman will pay 20 million dollars for a cleanup well at a former Benchmark Technology facility in the City of Industry. That's within Area 4 of the San Gabriel Valley Superfund cleanup site. Northrop has already put at least 10 million dollars into the site's cleanup - the other money spent after a 1989 order handed to the company by regional water regulators. 

We're following this for news. Check back for more here as well. 

UPDATE, 2:34 PM: Cleanup has been underway for decades at the Benchmark Technology site in the City of Industry, with Northrop is already paying for it. In announcing this new cleanup order, the federal Environmental Protection Agency also says it's taking jurisdiction over the shallow-level contamination site that water regulators have checked in on for decades. 

Benchmark was a computer circuitry plant; it shut down in 1988, and pulled a sort of Solyndra: no notice, no severance, 165 workers suddenly out of a job in a bad economy. Tenants of that property used chemical solvents and cancer-causing compounds for some years, and improper disposal of those chemicals allowed them to contaminate water in reservoirs underground. Much of the San Gabriel Valley's drinking water comes from reservoirs like this one. But about 18 percent of that valley is a federally designated Superfund site. Environmental regulators use Superfund law to hold property owners and polluters responsible for messes they leave behind. Under this order, Northrop will install wells and a treatment plant, and the treated water will flow to the surface or back to reservoirs for valley residents to use.

The EPA says more than sixty companies are responsible for contaminated groundwater in the San Gabriel Valley region. Some are bankrupt or no longer exist. In this part of the Superfund site, even after Northrop spends 20 million dollars, EPA officials estimate they'll need another 60 million dollars to complete cleanup. 

UPDATE, 3:47 PM: We throw around millions-of-dollars-numbers all the time. For context, I checked with EPA about what they think it will take to clean up the Puente area of the San Gabriel Valley. 80 million dollars, according to folks in EPA's Region 9 office in San Francisco. Today they ordered Northrop Grumman to spend 20 million dollars to clean up what is by far the largest of the contaminators in this region of the valley. The largest source of the pollution has yielded a quarter of the money to clean up the site. That fact makes clear the difficulty in finding ducats to pay for all this. It also goes a decent way towards explaining why an 11.1 billion dollar water bond that could fill in the funding gaps for projects like this would be popular in contaminated areas.

This site also illuminates another wrinkle for groundwater contamination. This new Northrop order forces the company to clean up contamination in the shallow-level part of the underground aquifer. That's a different place than Northrop has been working - which is in the intermediate-depth part. Water managers have ideas about how they'd prefer to use water in these largely separate areas. What they find when they test there can change what they do with the water.