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2 State Agencies Order BKK Clean-Up of Impure Ground Water

Times Staff Writer

Two state agencies have ordered the operators of the BKK landfill to clean up chemically polluted ground water that the agencies say has spread beyond the dump.

The polluted water from the landfill could eventually threaten San Gabriel Valley aquifers, said Ray Delacourt, a senior engineer with the state Regional Water Quality Control Board. “We are dealing with a problem that must be investigated and cleaned up,” Delacourt said.

But he said that underground drinking water--the nearest source of which is a well about a mile away--is not in immediate danger of becoming polluted. About 95% of the area’s drinking water comes from underground sources and the ground water under the landfill is part of the same aquifer from which the drinking water is drawn.

Underground water contaminated with volatile organic compounds was first discovered outside the dump in August. The water board and the state Department of Health Services had hoped that BKK would voluntarily agree to determine the extent of the pollution and clean it up.

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Cited the Company

When BKK officials refused, the two state agencies on Dec. 4 ordered BKK to determine the scope of the problem, propose a solution and carry it out. They also cited the company for violating state waste-treatment laws and a year-old, court-ordered agreement aimed at cleaning up the landfill and stopping the spread of pollution.

The operators of BKK agreed on Jan. 16 to drill six wells outside the landfill to monitor the situation. But so far they have not agreed to take any other action.

Until studies of water samples from those wells are completed, it is impossible to determine the extent of the problem and exactly what needs to be done, Delacourt said.

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Ron Gestalum, an attorney for BKK, said that even if the wells show that contamination has spread beyond the landfill, “we will argue no violation has occurred because we are not polluting water that is being used for drinking or any other purpose.”

Under the Landfill

Delacourt disagreed, contending that the ground water under the landfill meets federal standards for safe drinking and can be used for agricultural and industrial purposes.

But even if the water did not meet federal standards, he said, “that still doesn’t give you the right to pollute water that isn’t yours,” because the pollution could spread to other underground sources of drinking water.

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Gestalum said BKK did not immediately agree to drill the six test wells because it is BKK’s contention that ground water under the dump is not suitable for drinking and BKK officials are not convinced that the landfill is the source of the ground water pollution.

Gestalum said BKK’s position has “always been that we are always willing to conduct studies in and next to the landfill to help us monitor the pollution. Our dispute (with the agencies) was on the nature of the study. We thought they were asking for a major, expensive study.”

Came to Light in May

Evidence of the ground water problem at the 583-acre BKK site first came to light in May, 1984. A month earlier, during geological studies, BKK had drilled a test well about 50 feet inside the landfill. The well contained water heavily polluted with several organic chemicals, some of them suspected carcinogens, including vinyl chloride, Delacourt said.

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BKK took steps at that time to stop the polluted water from flowing outside the landfill, Delacourt said.

However, geological studies by the Environmental Protection Agency in August, 1985, revealed the first evidence that ground water pollution had spread beyond the landfill, he said. An array of chemicals similar to those found inside the well drilled by BKK more than a year earlier were found by the EPA in its test well, Delacourt said.

Test Well Drilled

The EPA test well was drilled in January, 1985, about 100 yards outside the landfill’s southeastern boundary at a site Delacourt refused to disclose to prevent anyone from tampering with it. It was not until August that the results came in.

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“We took action immediately after receiving the results from the EPA,” Delacourt said. “We sent letters to (BKK) saying there was a problem, and you are going to have to take action to clean it up.”

The two state agencies attempted to persuade BKK to voluntarily build test wells outside the landfill, Delacourt said. When BKK resisted, the agencies cited the company in December for violating waste-treatment laws and the court agreement.

The landfill is east of Azusa Avenue and north of Amar Road. Most of it is in southeastern West Covina, and about 40% is in western Walnut.

New Test Well

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The environmental agencies are also concerned about water pollution discovered early last month in a new test well drilled by BKK in compliance with the court agreement. That well is inside the landfill’s southeastern boundary, Delacourt said.

He said the well contained high levels of leachate, water that has passed through the landfill’s estimated 70 million tons of refuse, picking up a wide variety of organic and biological contaminants.

“In the past we had no evidence of leakage of leachate (beyond the landfill), but I can’t say that anymore,” Delacourt said. “This new well is 50 feet inside the landfill border, but everything would indicate it (leachate) is leaving.”

Both the water board and the state Health Services Department contend that any spread of polluted water beyond the landfill would violate state waste treatment laws and the court agreement controlling environmental hazards at the landfill.

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Civil Lawsuit

The agreement is the result of a civil lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by the city of West Covina against BKK a year ago. Five state regulatory agencies, including the water board and the Health Services Department, are parties to the accord.

All sides have agreed that steps should be taken to prevent the release of environmental pollutants from the landfill and to clean up the site. But while agreement on some cleanup measures has been reached, negotiations on others are continuing.

Delacourt said that under the terms of the court agreement, BKK is responsible for monitoring and preventing the spread of pollution beyond the landfill. The ground water issue will be discussed in court on March 28 as part of ongoing hearings concerning the agreement to clean up the dump.

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One of the suspected sources of the contamination outside the landfill was a sump--a rock-lined hole more than 20 feet deep--which had been used to dump water extracted from the landfill’s gas recovery system, Delacourt said. The sump was removed in April, 1984, he said. The water has since been stored in sealed tanks. It is not known how long the sump was used or how much water was dumped in it, Delacourt said.

The gas-recovery system, which was designed to reduce emissions of toxic gases escaping from the landfill, also causes moisture in the gas to cool and condense when it is brought up to the surface. Samples of this water, Delacourt said, contained the same chemicals found in the test well drilled in April, 1984.


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