Doubts Raised on Superfund Bay Cleanup : Hayden Proposal Would Probably Require Amendment to Legislation

Times Staff Writer

Environmental specialists last week expressed doubts that Santa Monica and San Pedro bays qualify for emergency cleanup under the federal Superfund program, despite Assemblyman Tom Hayden's contention that the bays are "assaulted by toxics and sewage."

Congress might have to redefine Superfund regulations before the bays could be considered for federal money, because the funds are usually allocated for abandoned landfills and land-based toxic dump sites, said Lu Haas, a spokesman for Sen. Alan Cranston.

"It would probably take an amendment to the legislation to allow a body of water like Santa Monica Bay (or San Pedro Bay) to be treated," Haas said. "It was never anticipated that the Superfund would be used for cleaning up an area like this. We don't know how it could be done."

Support Sought

Hayden (D-Santa Monica) called on members of the state's congressional delegation to support Superfund status for the bays in a press conference earlier last week. The assemblyman, who heads a state task force on toxic contamination, said the bays should be added to the Superfund list because they rank among the worst contamination sites in the country.

"According to reliable but limited data going back a decade, (the bays) are significantly polluted," Hayden said in a letter to the delegation. "It is vital that there be a comprehensive determination of the many specific causes . . . in order to develop . . . programs that will sharply reduce pollution in the future."

Contamination in Santa Monica and San Pedro bays is the focus of an ongoing investigation by state and local officials. Earlier this year, the county health department posted warnings about the danger of eating local sport fish after high levels of the toxic chemical DDT were found in white croaker. More recently, officials discovered that untreated sewage was being illegally discharged into Ballona Creek.

Hayden said the state should be "embarrassed" by the condition of the bays. He noted that officials in the state of Washington won Superfund status for Commencement Bay shortly after land-based contamination problems were discovered in 1980. Hayden said a consultant there called Santa Monica and San Pedro bays "one of the worst marine pollution problems in the world."

"The bays are seriously contaminated," Hayden said. "And yet we continue to treat them like a giant dump."

Several members of the state's congressional delegation were out of town this week and unavailable for comment on Hayden's request. But Kathy Files, a toxic specialist in Cranston's office, said that the idea is somewhat unorthodox. She said that Commencement Bay qualified for the Superfund program because the contamination started on land. Files said she had never heard of a body of water winning Superfund status.

"The original law was aimed at abandoned hazardous waste disposal sites where the owner was unknown, unwilling or unable to pay for the cleanup," Files said. "There's no precedent for listing any body of water. (Commencement Bay is not considered a water site because the contamination problems originated on land-based hazardous waste site.)

Terry Wilson, a spokesman for the EPA office in San Francisco, agreed that "no sites on the list are waterways at the present time." But he added that the bays would be considered for the Superfund status if his office receives a formal request from Hayden or anyone else.

May Meet Requirements

Robin Woods, an EPA spokeswoman in Washington, said Santa Monica and San Pedro bays may meet some Superfund requirements. Among the criteria for choosing Superfund sites is the contamination's impact on the nearby population and the environment, she said. More than 850 abandoned landfills and dumps are targeted for cleanup with Superfund money, and another 1,500 are expected to be added.

Woods stressed, however, that the EPA will not know how many projects it can undertake until Congress approves a new budget. The current five-year budget of $1.6 billion expires Sept. 30. The Reagan Administration has proposed a new five-year budget totaling $5.4 billion, but Congress is considering bills that would allocate nearly twice that amount for fighting toxic contamination.

Asked about concerns that the bays do not qualify, Hayden said the decision should be based on an analysis of the contamination there. "I've heard that point before," Hayden said. "But I think it's within the Superfund's intent to go after any sites that are the sources of this kind of pollution.

"I don't understand what the difference is between Commencement Bay and Santa Monica and San Pedro bays," he added. "They're bodies of water and they're on the ocean. . . . People who have done studies point to the same conclusions. There's more contamination in (the local bays) than Commencement Bay, yet Commencement Bay has received the Superfund money."

Hayden said he expects the Congressional delegation to support his stand on the bays, but added that he will file a personal request for the Superfund status if the delegation fails to act. Hayden said he would also encourage the delegation to investigate whether the bays qualify for cleanup money from the "estuary fund" established under the Clean Water Act.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World