After more than a decade, the Whittaker-Bermite cleanup reached a significant milestone this month as soil remediation efforts in contaminated areas are now complete, according to officials close to the matter.
The nearly 1,000 acres in the Santa Clarita Valley’s center core is clear of toxic material known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, trapped in the soil, said Jose Diaz, senior project manager with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which supervises the site cleanup performed by the Whittaker Corp.
“It took a number of years,” he said. “This is a significant milestone because obviously there’s a lot of resources and it’s a very expensive process to deal with in getting the site cleaned up and getting it ready for use in the future.”
VOCs are organic chemicals that easily turn to vapors or gases, which are released from burning fuel such as coal, gasoline or natural gas. These chemicals are extremely hazardous as they can cause short- and long-term adverse health effects including eye and respiratory tract irritation and visual disorders, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Whittaker-Bermite property, located south of Saugus Speedway on Soledad Canyon Road, was a working munition manufacturing site up until the 1980s. Its soil was contaminated in certain areas and contamination leaked into the valley’s groundwater.
While soil has been remedied, treatment of health-hazardous perchlorate in the groundwater is estimated to continue for 30 years or more, said Diaz.
The Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant, built in 2017 on the property next to the Metrolink Train Station on Soledad Canyon Road, will continue to pump and treat water over the next few decades, according to city Senior Planner James Chow.
Some tasks still underway include ongoing maintenance, as well as backfilling and sorting through a landfill to address any potential harm. Completion is expected to take a couple of months, added Chow.
The Whittaker Corp. will also be preparing reports to submit to DTSC as part of a reporting process on soil remediation risk evaluation that will be used to help DTSC determine land use, said Chow.
Of the undeveloped 996 acres, an estimated 20 acres, or 2%, will be restricted from development for health-sensitive reasons such as for schools, homes or daycares, said Diaz. Other factors for building restrictions include faultlines and an aqueduct in the area.
“It’s all soil management and paperwork at this point,” said Diaz. “Developers want to hear how clean is clean and how much can they use for development but that will come later on. We will ensure that they’re not buying damaged goods.”
On Thursday, a multi-jurisdictional committee, which included members of the Santa Clarita City Council, DTSC and representatives of Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, met at City Hall to hear updates on the cleanup.
“This has been a long time coming, a physical activity costing millions of dollars but a conclusion was reached that a cleanup of the surface soil has been completed to the standards of the Department of Toxic Substances Control,” said Councilman Bob Kellar, who is part of the multi-jurisdictional committee.
“Does this resolve every issue at the Whittaker-Bermite site? No, the contamination of the (groundwater) will continue to be addressed for decades but we have the abilities to do so,” Kellar said. “It’s been a very fine collaborative with the city, the Whittaker Corp., insurance companies and the Castaic Lake Water Agency, now the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency.”
The committee meets quarterly and the next meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at City Hall.