[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Cloudy
Cloudy
58°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
December 17
1839 - Judge John F. Powell born in Galway, Ireland [story]


Toxic chemicals in the soil on the 996-acre former Whittaker-Bermite munitions manufacturing site in Saugus will be cleaned up on all but about 10-15 acres by the end of 2018, officials in charge of the massive project promised in their latest update.

The final months of one of the nation’s largest toxic waste cleanups come nearly three decades after perchlorate, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic hydrocarbons (or solvents) and depleted uranium were first discovered in the site’s soil and groundwater.

Perchlorate, a primary ingredient in explosives, contaminated the soil and the local water supply wells. The chemical affects the ability of the thyroid gland to take up iodine which is needed to make hormones that regulate many body functions after they are released into the blood.

Project managers from the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, GSI Environmental and SCV Water provided their latest progress reports on the cleanup process to the public at a hearing at City Hall also attended by about 15 members of the community on Wednesday.

Jose Diaz, Amalia Marreh, James Chow and Hassan Amini at the Whittaker-Bermite public hearing at City Hall on March 7, 2018. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Jose Diaz, Amalia Marreh, James Chow and Hassan Amini at the Whittaker-Bermite public hearing at City Hall on March 7, 2018. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

City Councilman Bob Kellar led the hearing, which included status presentations by Jose Diaz, the DTSC senior project manager in charge of the cleanup work by engineering-construction company CDM Smith; Hassan Amini, a toxic cleanup consultant with GSI Environmental; and Jim Leserman, senior engineer and project manager for SCV Water’s perchlorate remediation program.

Representing the city at the hearing were staffers James Chow (senior planner), Amalia Marreh (senior engineer), Shannon Pickett (senior engineer) and Dan March (engineering administrator).

Leserman and Keith Abercrombie represented SCV Water. Kris Hough and Sharon Bronson represented Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) and Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita), respectively.

Rick Drew, Alan Ferdman, Jerry Noltemeyer, Cam Noltemeyer and Sally White represented the Whittaker-Bermite Citizen Action Group, which would host a separate project update session with officials a few hours later.

Other citizens in attendance included B.J. Atkins, EHI; Casey Feldser, 33 NDG; Blake Bonelli, Saugus Speedway;
Andrew Sevanian, a proxy for Hunt Braly of Poole & Shaffery; Lynne Plambeck, SCV Water; and Dan Masnada, former general manager of Castaic Lake Water Agency (SCV Water’s predecessor), as a private citizen.

Toxic soil and groundwater cleanup in progress at the Whittaker-Bermite site. Photo: City of Santa Clarita.

Toxic soil and groundwater cleanup in progress at the Whittaker-Bermite site. Photo: City of Santa Clarita.

“DTSC continues to review progress reports on the excavation, soil treatment, groundwater monitoring, soil vapor extraction systems reports and monthly progress reports on the overall cleanup of the site,” Diaz said to open his presentation.

The property is roughly bordered by Soledad Canyon Road on the north, Golden Valley Road on the east, Railroad Avenue on the west and Circle J Ranch on the south.

“Out of the 996 acres, we estimate that about 40 acres had surface contamination that require(d) the soil excavations,” he said.

The project was broken down into seven “operable units” – six for areas of soil contamination and one for water – and used an ex sito bioremediation process to excavate, clean and return the uncontaminated soil.

“Out of those 40 acres, because of the solvents and residual contamination, we estimate between 10-15 acres will be restricted…they cannot be used for sensitive uses such as single-family homes, schools, hospitals or day-care centers,” Diaz said. “So you’re going to have a lot of unrestricted property at the end of the day that can be used for anything. Obviously, there are constraints, something that the DTSC doesn’t have jurisdiction on such as easements, terrain issues, earthquake faults and things like that.”

Responding to a question from Kellar, Diaz said the restricted acreage was “not a big area, just little spots on certain areas of the site,” and pointed some of them out on a map projected on the meeting room screen.

Toxic soil and groundwater cleanup equipment at the Whittaker-Bermite site. Photo: City of Santa Clarita.

Toxic soil and groundwater cleanup equipment at the Whittaker-Bermite site. Photo: City of Santa Clarita.

Diaz explained that the soil in those spots was uncleanable due to the nature of the soil and the type of contamination.

“When we’re doing the evaluation of the top 100-foot column (of soil) and we have contaminants in there, if we cannot clean it up to that unrestricted land use level, that’s when you have restrictions on it,” he said.

Water Cleanup Progress
Cleaning all the perchlorate from adjacent groundwater may take longer than the end of 2018, but there’s been significant progress, according to Diaz.

“The other significant milestone I want to point out that is within that last two to three weeks, the Saugus Aquifer water treatment plant started operating pretty much in full mode,” he said. “It’s not up to 500 gallons per minute but we’re operating at about 130 gallons per minute, which is a pretty substantial treatment of the water.

“In the next couple of months we’ll be ramping up to higher volumes,” Diaz said. “That is important because as the system is designed, the extraction wells are placed in a way to prevent the plume of perchlorate from leaving the site.”

“It’s been a long, long time since investigations and evaluation of how water behaves and how contaminants behave on the property – close to 30 years since this started,” he said. “So it is a significant milestone and Hassan’s team has done a great job of getting that done to this point.”

Diaz said the water decontamination system will continue to operate after the soil decontamination is finished.

“We have baseline estimates of 30 years, but we can foresee because of groundwater conditions that sometimes some of the wells will not be pumped or other wells will be pumped more than others or additional wells may have to be added,” he said. “This will all be dependent on further 10 or five-year reviews. So we are hoping for the best, obviously.”

Kellar asked about water discharge, and Diaz said once the water is cleaned of perchlorates, it is discharged into the Santa Clara River, or returned to the site for re-use.

“They are trying to use as much of the water in the soil treatment system and the majority of the water will be discharged into the Santa Clara River until there’s infrastructure to be used on-site for irrigation or other uses,” he said.

Landfills Cleanup
Diaz said DTSC and the cleanup contractor were waiting for the Fish & Wildlife Agency to approve permits to clean up several small landfills on the property.

Until 1987, Whittaker routinely dumped trash like cardboard boxes and metal parts into small ravines in remote areas instead of trucking it to the public dump at Chiquita Canyon. Once permitted, those areas could be cleaned up in two and a half to three months, Diaz said.

But both Diaz and Amini chastised Fish & Wildlife for its slow approval process, which could bump Whittaker-Bermite cleanup completion into early 2019 if not approved soon.

“On Monday our team had a meeting with the Fish & Wildlife people,” Amini said. “To be honest I am not happy with their progress in reviewing our permit application. I’ve made no secret about that, and that I want them to move forward faster with our application and grant us the go-ahead to start this work. We need to do this in a dry season, during the summer.”

Hassan Amini at the Whittaker-Bermite public hearing at City Hall on March 7, 2018. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Hassan Amini at the Whittaker-Bermite public hearing at City Hall on March 7, 2018. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Some of the locations could be the site of some protected species, which is why Fish & Wildlife’s permit is needed.

“We want to make sure that when we move to correct something here that we don’t disturb another thing,” Amini said. “So were are carefully going through the survey and looking for the exact right season that we are not in the season of a nesting bird or flowering of the plants that need to be protected. Talk about competing priorities and regulations. But we will be done in less than three months.”

“So the next significant milestone is completion of those excavations, hopefully by the end of this year,” Diaz said. “With the soil excavations for treatment of perchlorate, the projected date of completion is the end of this year. This is all the excavations throughout the site.”

In his portion of the hearing, Amini displayed slides of the site showing contaminated areas and percentages of cleanup listed.

“All the green areas are areas where we have performed and successfully completed soil vapor extraction in those target areas,” he said. “The blue areas are where we are currently operating with soil vapor extraction units at those locations. Next to them is a designation of the area, then inside parentheses, we have percentages of completion of the soil extraction activity.”

Amini noted that the areas restricted from single-family homes, schools, hospitals or day-care facilities still had many other potential uses.

“They can be used for commercial, industrial, open space, you name it,” he said. “They’re not locations that we are putting a fence around and saying, ‘Stay back!’ They will still be part of this beautiful landscaping we have.”

Background
It took half a century to create the problem, then roughly a decade to assess it, another decade to figure out what to do and how to pay for it, and the last decade or so to perform the task.

From 1934 to 1987, the Whittaker-Bermite Corporation manufactured, stored and tested a wide range of explosives at the Saugus facility. Among them were ammunition rounds; detonators, fuzes and boosters; flares and signal cartridges; glow plugs, tracers and pyrophoric pellets; igniters, ignition compositions and explosive bolts; power charges; rocket motors and gas generators; and missile main charges.

Whittaker-Bermite ended its munitions and fireworks operations in 1987, but more than 275 known contaminants were left behind, some of which percolated into the groundwater below the property.

An aerial view of soil excavation and treatment in progress at the Whittaker-Bermite site just west of Golden Valley Road in April 2008. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

In 1995, Plans were made for the area to be developed into a 2,911-unit residential community to be called Porta Bella, which was approved by the City Council but didn’t come to fruition.

The Specific Plan for the property will remain in place indefinitely until it is amended or replaced by another entitlement granted by the City Council in the future, most likely to be proposed prior to redevelopment of the site.

Simi Valley-based Whittaker sold the Saugus property to an Arizona investor group in 1999, just before Whittaker was acquired in a hostile takeover.

The property spent the first decade of the 21st Century tied up in litigation. One result was this nearly complete toxic chemical cleanup project, managed by the Castaic Lake Water Agency (and now SCV Water) with Whittaker and it successors financially responsible. Another was Whittaker successfully winning the right to bill the federal government for cleanup costs.

An aerial view of the Whittaker-Bermite site looking west in April 2008. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

An aerial view of the Whittaker-Bermite site looking west in April 2008. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Meanwhile, the entire parcel — nicknamed “the donut hole” by Santa Clarita Valley residents — has remained undeveloped for more than 30 years (with the exception of the Metrolink train station and parking lot). Its future remains undetermined, but not without a plan.

“There is going to be a Soils Management Plan to deal with any contamination that was not previously discovered, so we will have a process for dealing with anything we may find in the future,” he said.

Asked what level of satisfaction he had that all the contaminated spots on the property had been found, Diaz said, “Pretty high — 90 to 95 percent.”

For complete Whittaker-Bermite cleanup history and documentation, visit the Whittaker-Bermite page on the DTSC website.

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

10 Comments

  1. Bob Shepler Bob Shepler says:

    Can hardly wait to see the low income housing that gets built on the site.

  2. Dave Dzaich Dave Dzaich says:

    New 750k houses built on top of an old munitions factory.

  3. Are they going to disclose this to people who buy these homes?I’d sure want to know if my home was on top of a munitions factory!

  4. KJ Slo KJ Slo says:

    If you lived in Santa Clarita cities for over 40 years and have thyroid disease or cancer raise your hand 🤚🏻!

  5. Rick Harms Rick Harms says:

    I have lived here for 40 years.

  6. Janice Kim says:

    I feel sorry for those kids who attend that nearby high school, breathing all that poison day in and day out.

    Poor kids! Who gets to speak for them?

  7. Danny Young Danny Young says:

    Oh yay, now they can build more houses and create more traffic

Leave a Comment


SCV NewsBreak
LOCAL NEWS HEADLINES
Monday, Dec 17, 2018
CHP Notes New Bicycle, Roadway Safety Laws
New laws approved by the California Legislature in 2018 will affect roadway safety in several ways, including helmet use on bicycles and motorized scooters, hit-and-run on bicycle paths, modified exhaust systems, and enhanced safety for refuse collection vehicles.
Monday, Dec 17, 2018
DMV Reminds Motorists of New 2019 Laws
With the New Year just around the corner, the California Department of Motor Vehicles wants to inform the public about several new laws or changes to existing law that take effect Jan. 1, 2019.
Monday, Dec 17, 2018
Bakersfield Pair Nabbed on Drug, ID Theft Charges in Newhall
Deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station arrested a man and woman from Bakersfield on multiple drug and identity theft charges in Newhall early Saturday morning.
Keep Up With Our Facebook

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The city of Santa Clarita has updated the list of productions shooting in the city and the Santa Clarita Valley for the week of Dec. 17-23, 2018.
‘Goliath,’ ‘AMD,’ ‘BAB,’ ‘Suits’ Spinoff Now Filming in SCV
New laws approved by the California Legislature in 2018 will affect roadway safety in several ways, including helmet use on bicycles and motorized scooters, hit-and-run on bicycle paths, modified exhaust systems, and enhanced safety for refuse collection vehicles.
CHP Notes New Bicycle, Roadway Safety Laws
With the New Year just around the corner, the California Department of Motor Vehicles wants to inform the public about several new laws or changes to existing law that take effect Jan. 1, 2019.
DMV Reminds Motorists of New 2019 Laws
Deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station arrested a man and woman from Bakersfield on multiple drug and identity theft charges in Newhall early Saturday morning.
Bakersfield Pair Nabbed on Drug, ID Theft Charges in Newhall
The California Department of Transportation has accelerated pavement rehabilitation on the northbound No. 3 lane on Interstate 5 in Castaic to provide all four lanes through the construction zone to accommodate holiday traffic.
Caltrans to Reopen I-5 Lane in Castaic for Holiday Traffic
1839 - Judge John F. Powell born in Galway, Ireland [story]
1902 - Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), Gen. E.F. Beale's Syrian camel driver, dies at Quartzsite, Ariz. [story]
1987 - Incorporation: Santa Clarita officially becomes a city [story]
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday denied the Trump Administration’s attempt to block California's lawsuit challenging the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
Court Denies Feds’ Attempt to Block California AG’s Census 2020 Lawsuit
Award-winning musician, philanthropist and CalArts School of Music namesake Herb Alpert and his wife, famed vocalist Lani Hall, will perform a holiday concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night, Dec. 20.
Dec. 20: Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Holiday Special at Disney Concert Hall
The 20th annual Animation 'Show of Shows' mini-festival has opened at theaters in Los Angeles and New York this week, and three of the films selected are directed by CalArtians.
CalArts Animators Featured at 20th Annual ‘Show of Shows’
Following finals week, CSUN Men's Basketball returns to action Sunday afternoon, hosting Pacific on The Blacktop at The Matadome with tip-off slated for 3 p.m.
Dec. 16: CSUN Men’s Hoopsters to Host Pacific
After taking their Fall semester finals this week, the CSUN women's basketball team travels 30 miles down the I-5 to the Galen Center where the Matadors will face USC Sunday afternoon.
Dec. 16: CSUN Woman’s Basketball Team Takes on USC
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies arrested a man on The Old Road for three outstanding warrants plus new drug, counterfeit money and suspected stolen property charges on Thursday night.
Man on Bike Arrested on Drug, Bogus Cash Charges in Stevenson Ranch
The California Enterprise Development Authority will hold its next teleconference meeting on Thursday, Dec. 20, at 10:30 a.m.
Dec. 20: California Enterprise Development Authority Teleconference Meeting
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday that nine scientific and technical achievements represented by 27 individual award recipients will be honored at its annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills on Saturday, Feb. 9.
Feb. 9: AMPAS to Honor Scientific, Technical Achievements
Santa Clarita business law firm Poole & Shaffery, LLP and the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce will host the 2019 Employment Law Update luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday, Jan. 10 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Jan. 10: 2019 Employment Law Update Luncheon
Outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown had some harsh words for world leaders at the United Nations Climate Conference in Poland, which wrapped up Friday.
‘Wake Up, the Planet Is Burning Up,’ Brown Tells Polluting Nations
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce will host its next Business After Hours mixer at Oakmont of Santa Clarita on Wednesday, Dec. 19 starting at 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 19: Chamber Business After Hours Mixer at Oakmont
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, Dec. 18, starting at 9:30 a.m.
Dec. 18: LA County Board of Supervisors Meeting
College of the Canyons sophomore Anthony Simone scored 24 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as the Cougars jumped out to an early lead to defeat host L.A. Harbor College 73-69 on Wednesday night.
Canyons Sinks L.A. Harbor 73-69
This year's NAIA All-American roll call was a testament to perseverance.
TMU’s Pair of All-Americans: A Tale of Perseverance
A divided Ninth Circuit on Thursday partly lifted a nationwide injunction barring enforcement of the Trump administration’s interim rules letting employers opt out of covering birth control on religious and moral grounds, limiting the injunction to California and four other states.
Court Limits Injunction on Contraception Rules to California, 4 More States
Resource deputies conducted a special operation at an unnamed Santa Clarita Valley school that netted three adults who were arrested on drug charges on Wednesday.
3 Adults Arrested on Drug Charges Near Local School
The California Air Resources Board on Friday approved a first-of-its-kind regulation in the United States that sets a statewide goal for public transit agencies to gradually transition to 100 percent zero-emission bus fleets by 2040.
California Aims for All-Electric Public Bus Fleet by 2040
1931 - Season's first major storm deposits 9 inches of snow in Newhall, 10 in Saugus [story]
Have you ever found yourself wanting to take a bike ride along the countless miles of paved trails in Santa Clarita, but don’t have a bike? Well, now you can.
City Launches ‘Pace’ Bike Share Program
The Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees, which oversees College of the Canyons, swore in recently elected board members, named its new officers, and set its 2019 meeting schedule at the board’s business and organizational meeting held on Wednesday.
New COC Board Members Sworn In, 2019 Officers Named
iLEAD Agua Dulce, a free public charter school serving grades TK through 6, has been selected to receive a $475,000 grant to bolster its acclaimed project-based and social-emotional learning programs, the school announced Thursday.
Agua Dulce Charter School Selected for $475K Grant
The Saugus Union School District said goodbye to two long serving Governing Board members at the District’s final meeting of 2018. Judy Egan Umeck, who served for 22 years, and Paul De La Cerda, who served for 13 years, left the Board following ceremonies at the Dec. 11, 2018 special meeting.
Longtime SUSD Governing Board Members Bid Farewell
The Saugus Union School District Governing Board conducted swearing-in ceremonies on Tuesday for trustees elected this past November.
SUSD Appoints New President, Clerk; New Members Sworn In
A suspect was taken into custody after reportedly stealing his father's vehicle Thursday morning, according to officials at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.
Suspect in Custody After Reportedly Stealing Father’s Car
Three members of the William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board re-elected last month were sworn in for their next four-year terms Wednesday night at the board’s annual re-organizational meeting
Hart District Elected Members Sworn In
With a focus on transparency and a desire to reassure customers that water rates will continue to reflect the accurate cost of providing services, the SCV Water Board of Directors recently adopted a rate-setting process that includes an independent ratepayer advocate.
SCV Water’s Rate-Setting Process to Include Ratepayer Advocate
Santa Clarita Valley residents and visitors will be able to enjoy 67.5 miles of an expanded network of multi-use trails and trail-related facilities, such as equestrian and outdoor leisure and sports, following approval Tuesday of the Santa Susana Mountains Trails Plan – Phase II, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Santa Susana Mountains Trails Expand into SCV
This holiday season, Princess Cruises Community Foundation (PCCF) sponsored its eighth annual employee holiday giving program benefitting Single Mothers Outreach, a local nonprofit organization that empowers single parents and their children by providing hope, support and resources so that families can become self-sustaining.
Princess Cruises Annual Giving Program Benefits Single Mothers Outreach