What Goes Down, Sometimes Comes Up

Out of sight, out of mind. So it follows that Californians rarely think about the water that resides beneath the hundreds of square miles of Los Angeles concrete. Today, few municipalities pump groundwater for potable use. One reason is that local groundwater sources have been horribly contaminated by decades of industrial and military activity.


For example the entire San Gabriel Valley aquifer is an EPA Superfund site due in large measure to Aerojet

General’s missile factory. Lockheed has similarly corrupted the eastern half of the San Fernando Valley.


For years it was assumed that contaminants in our groundwater, especially volatile organic compounds (VOC),

remained stable in underground aquifers. Now we know better. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s

recent report, “Draft Guidance for Evaluating the Vapor Intrusion to Indoor Air Pathway from Groundwater and

Soils,” suggests that some VOCs actually turn to gas underground and then ascend into homes, offices, schools, and work places, dosing inhabitants with toxic vapors.


PSR-LA researched which communities are most blighted by VOC groundwater contamination and may potentially be at risk.


In Los Angeles County VOC’s blight superfund sites in Burbank, San Gabriel, Glendale and Del Amo. But VOC’s have also contaminated sites in Pacoima, Compton, Industry, Torrance, South Gate, Carson, Long Beach, East LA, El Segundo, Lynwood, Wilmington, Van Nuys, Sun Valley, Santa Fe Springs, Santa Clarita and Paramount.


In Ventura County, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is responsible for an estimated 500,000 gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE) in the groundwater (Despite PSR-LA’s repeated requests state agencies have not yet tested

for worker exposure to this deadly toxicant).


But VOC’s can do more harm than simply intruding into homes. These chemicals are so dangerous—particularly

TCE, which was recently found by EPA to be 65 times more dangerous than previously assumed—that even a small

dose, found in outdoor (ambient) air, may be too much. Unfortunately, few are aware of VOC contamination. That’s why on October 2, PSR-LA hosted an information meeting for affected residents and environmental agencies and organizations at the Radisson Valley Center in Sherman Oaks. EPA toxicologist Patrick Wilson presented the toxicological data. Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, described the

cleanup process in Mountain View where VOC’s dosed homes and schools. Community members including LeRae

Spera from Norco, Barbara Johnson from  the Rocketdyne area, and Marta Segura and Felipe Aguirre from Southeast LA, presented their area’s particular dilemmas regarding these toxic contaminants.


PSR-LA will continue to work to expose this once-buried, now-ascending environmental problem.


One monumental question remains to be asked, let alone answered: is the gas fuel contaminant, MTBE, sufficiently

volatile and toxic to ill-effect hundreds of thousands of Californians residing above MTBE plumes? To get involved, contact Jonathan Parfrey at (213) 386-4901 x112 or [email protected]

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