Four Area Refineries Ordered to Begin Testing Water, Soil

Times Staff Writer

Four Southeast- and Long Beach-area oil refineries are among 15 refineries in the Los Angeles area that were ordered Monday to begin testing on and off their plant sites for ground-water and soil contamination from gasoline and other petroleum products.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board order comes in the wake of reports of ground-water pollution at five of the 15 refineries, including Golden West Refining Co. in Santa Fe Springs, said Ray Delacourt, a senior engineer for the board.

Board officials said the move is designed to prevent potential contamination to drinking water, to ensure that ground-water supplies are available for non-drinking uses in the future and to prevent potential seepage of chemicals that are suspected carcinogens. Much of the drinking water in the Southeast and Long Beach area is drawn from local wells. (See chart.)

Contamination from an unknown source recently forced the closure of a drinking water well in Norwalk. (See article this page.) The well is one of more than 100 in the Los Angeles area that have been found to be contaminated with suspected carcinogens since January, 1980, state officials said.

Most of the contaminated wells have been shut down, but the water from some is being treated or mixed with water from other wells to meet safety standards for drinking water.

Wants 'No Surprises'

Because the state has no information on ground-water pollution at the other 10 refineries--including Paramount Petroleum Co. in Paramount, Edgington Oil Co. in Long Beach and Powerine Oil Co. in Santa Fe Springs--Delacourt said the board is "requiring the studies now so there are no surprises later."

In fact, he said, the board is tired of surprises.

Last April, El Segundo city officials stumbled on a pool of petroleum products seeping off a Chevron USA Inc. site. And in 1980, engineers working on an underpass in Santa Fe Springs discovered ground-water contamination from petroleum products near a Gulf Oil Co. refinery that today belongs to Golden West.

"That is the very reason that the order was put into effect," Delacourt said. "We don't want this situation to occur by accident again. We want people to go look for

these things and find them."

The board's order requires the 15 refineries to complete their investigations within four months, with extensions to be granted by the board if necessary. Refineries that find contamination of either ground water or soil are required to begin cleanup immediately.

The requirements are "precautionary measures to protect the ground waters," said board engineer John Lewis. Petroleum products, called hydrocarbons, pose a potential health hazard to the environment, he said, because when they separate into their basic components, they form toluene, benzene and other compounds that are suspected carcinogens.

Golden West, under pressure from water quality officials, agreed in January to submit plans for investigation of the ground water, Lewis said. However, that refinery is now included under the sweeping order covering all 15 refineries.

Ground-water contamination already identified at or near Golden West, Chevron and three other refineries on the list is "relatively shallow (and) there is no danger to the drinking water right now," Lewis said.

Drinking water comes from an aquifer 200 to 1,000 feet underground and is separated from shallow ground water by a clay layer, Lewis said. But because contaminated ground water can chemically penetrate the barrier or seep through breaks in the clay, any contamination must be cleaned up, he said.

Cleanup is also imperative, Delacourt said, because in the future the area may need to draw on ground water under the refineries for irrigation, industry, recreation and other non-drinking uses.

Mistakes and poor operating practices at the refineries may have caused the ground-water pollution, Delacourt said. Up until the late 1970s, he said, some refineries dumped petroleum products into open ponds and used earthen underground tanks with inadequate linings to store oil.

Contaminated Pool

In Santa Fe Springs, city engineers taking soil samples for an underpass on Carmenita Road near Cambridge Street in 1980 discovered a gasoline-like substance floating on a ground-water pool 11 feet underground. Tests revealed that the contaminated pool measures about 200 feet across and flows southwest from Golden West property (owned by Gulf Oil in 1980) to the city boundary with Norwalk, three-quarters of a mile away.

The exact size and boundaries of the underground pool are not known, city officials said, but there is no evidence of any contamination to the city's drinking water, two-thirds of which comes from city wells.

Most of the wells are in the northwestern, residential section of the city, removed from the industrial section where the underpass is, said Public Works Director John Price. A city well about three miles south of the underpass has also shown no contamination, he said.

In order to build the underpass, the city spent about $100,000 on an underground system of drains, pumps and tanks to collect, separate and pump out the petroleum products and ground water, Price said. Petroleum products from the underground pool are pumped into the Golden West facility, and ground water is pumped into the San Gabriel River by the city, said Price.

Gulf Oil also built collection wells to recover petroleum products from the contaminated underground pool, Price said.

Filling Escalates

The system operated without incident until September of last year, Price said, when the collection tank for petroleum products abruptly began filling more rapidly. The city has since emptied the tank four times, compared to once in the previous 12 months, he said.

"As we pull it out, more comes in," Price said. "There's a source someplace that's creating more material."

In early November, the city spent several thousands of dollars to clean up an excess of petroleum products in the collection system at the underpass, Price said. The incident coincided with a spill of petroleum products into the San Gabriel River.

The city believes that the underground pool flows from the Golden West facility and in December asked the company to take responsibility for disposing of the wastes, Price said.

"We've been trying to deal with the problem for a long time now with very little help," he said. "We feel it's coming from (Golden West), and we feel they should be responsible for it."

The board's recent order will require the refinery to define the size and limits of the underground pool, as well as the source of the contamination, Lewis said."

Times Staff Writer Lee Harris contributed to this story. Water Sources City drinking water usage by percentage

City Wells MWD Bellflower 40 60 Cerritos 40 60 Commerce 20 80 Compton 67 33 Cudahy 67 33 Downey 94 6 Huntington Park 67 33 La Habra 50 50 Lakewood 100 -- La Mirada 67 33 Long Beach 45 55 Lynwood 67 33 Maywood 75 25 Montebello 80 20 Norwalk 100 -- Paramount 67 33 Santa Fe Springs 67 33 South Gate 86 14 Whittier 100 -- SoCal Water Co.* 52 48 Park Water Co.** 27 73

MWD=Metropolitan Water District

*--Cities served include Artesia, South Gate, Paramount, Bell, Bell Gardens and portions of Hawaiian Gardens and Norwalk.

**--Cities served include portions of Hawaiian Gardens, Norwalk, Paramount and Bell Gardens.

Source: Central and West Basin Water Replenishment District and cities.

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