Tests Seek New Way of Clearing Dump Site

Times Staff Writer

Drilling and sampling of sludge and contaminated soil at the McColl hazardous waste site in Fullerton is expected to begin this week, according to federal environmental officials who will design a cleanup plan for the abandoned World War II dump.

The tests are to determine whether the refinery wastes and contaminated soil can be incinerated, instead of excavated and hauled away, which was the earlier plan for the federal Superfund hazardous waste site, a Fullerton city official said.

Barry Eaton, the city's chief planner, said that the newly reauthorized federal Superfund act places a heavier emphasis on "ultimate destruction" of waste materials. Consequently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking at alternatives, in addition to excavation, "with more emphasis on destruction" of the waste, he said.

Tested Repeatedly

The waste site has been tested repeatedly by state and federal health officials ever since cleanup efforts began in the early 1980s. However, Eaton said, earlier tests "were not good enough to determine how feasible" incineration is.

Forty-one bore holes will be drilled at the site over an estimated three-month period, said Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Terry Wilson. Tests will be conducted on the soil inside the pits, where refinery wastes and drilling muds were deposited more than 40 years ago, as well as alongside the sumps, to determine the extent of contamination of nearby soil, he said. In addition, several holes will be bored in areas away from the sumps to determine whether the waste material has migrated.

Federal and state officials are restudying ways to clean up McColl after a Kern County Superior Court judge in May, 1985, halted the earlier plan. Federal and state health agencies were set to spend an estimated $26.5 million to dig up the waste and haul it to a disposal facility in Kern County, when the judge ruled that the officials had to conduct a full environmental impact study.

Created in 1940s

Eaton said that the study is being prepared and that state health officials plan to use the EPA tests as a basis for their plan.

The McColl dump site was created in the mid-1940s when oil companies that were producing aviation fuel for World War II deposited waste materials in 12 sumps operated by Eli McColl in then-rural Fullerton. Now the dump site, situated under a vacant field and a portion of the Los Coyotes Country Club, is bordered on three sides by upper-middle-class homes.

In earlier tests, state health officials determined that the soil contains sulfuric acid, benzene and arsenic, and the fumes contain sulfur dioxide, causing surrounding residents to suffer from headaches, nausea and respiratory problems.

Some residents have grown weary of the long delays and repeated studies of the site in northwest Fullerton.

"We've been through it (testing), you get to the point where you're disgusted with the whole thing," said nearby resident Joan Hutton of the new series of tests. "Before, the trucks were about to move it out, and then there was the injunction, and it all came to a halt."

Hutton and her husband moved in to a then-new home near the site in 1977, before homeowners were aware of the dump's presence, she said. "Most original owners are all tired of it," Hutton said. "You'd think that after this many years, it would have been taken care of by now."

In devising the earlier excavation cleanup plan, state and federal officials rejected the option to "encapsulate" the waste and leave it on the site. Eaton said the EPA is now reconsidering encapsulation, but the new federal regulations would require more extensive measures than earlier designed. The new measures would involve removing the waste and laying down a double liner underneath it before replacing the sludge, he said.

In the new tests, workers will bore holes and sample the soil between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., including weekends, and crews usually work 10 straight days and then take four days off, according to the EPA.

Evacuation Contingency

Workers will wear protective clothing and breathing equipment.

Federal officials said they anticipate no health problems for the surrounding residents. However, if emissions rise above a designated level, or if excessive odors are detected by a monitoring agency, residents will be advised to stay indoors or, in the case of a "more serious incident," evacuated to Sunny Hills High School.

Air emissions will be monitored by the South Coast Air Quality Management District during all activities in the field. The air quality agency will test for sulfur dioxide and total hydrocarbons, including benzene, and will also monitor odor nuisance, according to Wilson.

Nearby resident Victor Lee said he is not too worried about the tests because during previous borings, "I never noticed anything."

A resident of the neighborhood for about five years, Lee said he is eager for the officials to clean up the site, but he is not annoyed by the need for further testing.

"It's time to move on, but if the regulations demand more testing, what can you say? I'd rather have it done and then get it cleaned up," he said.

To Depths of 80 Feet

All of the soil and waste sampling will be conducted on site by drilling six-inch holes to depths of up to 80 feet, Wilson said. Nineteen samplings will be drilled into the 12 waste pits, and 16 holes will be bored into the soil adjacent to the sumps. In addition, three borings will be drilled along the eastern boundary of the site, two in the Los Coyotes area, and one near Rosecrans Avenue, along the northern boundary of the site.

Two drilling machines will be used simultaneously throughout the field activities, with the waste placed in 55-gallon drums and stored on site until a final cleanup plan is determined, Wilson said. The holes from which the waste was extracted will be filled to prevent air emissions, officials said.

If unhealthful air or significant odor emissions are detected during the investigation, drilling will be stopped and a contingency plan will go into effect, according to the federal officials.

Fullerton police would drive through the neighborhood, using a loudspeaker to advise residents to stay indoors and shut all doors and windows, according to the plan. In the case of a more serious emission level, residents would be asked to go to Sunny Hills High School. Other schools in the area would be advised of the action and would not send children home, according to the plan. In the event of an emission problem, pets should be taken to the Orange County Animal Shelter for safekeeping.

'Possibility Remote'

"The possibility of relocation is remote and would probably only be of a short duration," according to an EPA newsletter sent to area residents. "Police officers would be in the vicinity throughout the incident to protect your property."

However, according to the newsletter, it is possible that some residents will detect odors that do not reach "action levels." If residents develop breathing problems or discomfort, they should call the South Coast Air Quality Management District, it advises.

To reach the South Coast Air Quality Management District, residents should call (800) 572-6306 (24 hours) or Steve Levy at (818) 572-6195. The Superfund toll-free information number is (800) 231-3075. During the weekend, federal or state officials can be reached at (714) 521-6086.

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