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Pollution Seepage Detected at Closed Plant

Times Staff Writer

Pollutants are seeping into soil beneath a former military explosives plant in Saugus, according to state and federal environmental officials.

The ground under part of the Bermite complex is “moderately” contaminated with liquid solvents and possibly with metallic chemicals, Alan Sorsher, an associate waste-management engineer with the state Department of Health Services, said at a public hearing Thursday night.

It is unknown how long the seepage has been occurring or whether groundwater might be threatened, said Michael A. Fernandez, an environmental engineer with the U. S Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are requiring further investigation because we are not entirely sure what the extent of the contamination is,” Fernandez said.

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Site of Accidents

The Bermite plant, where explosives were manufactured from 1906 until its closing earlier this year, was the site of several accidental explosions and hazardous-waste-disposal problems in recent years.

The EPA and the state Department of Health Services are reviewing a Bermite plan to clean up the site, which Bermite’s parent company, the Los Angeles-based Whittaker Corp., has attempted unsuccessfully to sell, Sorsher said.

The 1,100-acre site is one of the largest remaining tracts of undeveloped land in the booming Santa Clarita Valley, where the population is expected to more than double by the year 2000.

About 15 people showed up at the public hearing to question the cleanup plan.

“They’ve got to clean up this place because it’s going to be used for development, eventually,” said Laurene Weste, vice president of the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Assn. The association represents about 500 homes near the Bermite site, she said.

“The groundwater is our greatest concern,” Weste said.

Federal and state laws require Bermite to clean up the site so that health is not threatened, Fernandez said. Environmental officials had rejected an earlier cleanup plan submitted by Bermite in August because it did not contain enough detail about how the company had been disposing of waste, he said.

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Open Burning

For years, Bermite routinely released burned dry waste from its explosives-manufacturing process into the open air, Sorsher said. Two permanent buildings and six portable sheds were used to store the waste, which included used paper towels and gloves, he said. The buildings and items used for storage and burning will be under official scrutiny during the cleanup, he said.

Investigators also will be examining two shallow pools that were used to store liquid waste, Sorsher said. It was under one of those pools that leakage, which had been suspected earlier, was discovered by the company and environmental officials earlier this summer, he said.

Environmental officials have not set a timetable for approving the Bermite cleanup plan, but a decision could come as early as October, Fernandez said.

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