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New Tests Show Severe Burbank Water Pollution

Times Staff Writer

Groundwater contamination in Burbank is much worse than originally believed and apparently has been caused by many companies, not just Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co., state officials said Monday.

“There’s an indication there have been some very serious leaks or disposal that we have to get on very, very soon,” said Robert P. Ghirelli, executive director of the state-run Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. “We’re not talking about stuff just lying around in the ground.”

Not Used by Public

None of the contaminated water is used for public consumption, officials said. Seven of Burbank’s 10 wells already have been shut because of high concentrations of pollutants. But Ghirelli said the recent findings “came out of left field.”

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Water tests done for Lockheed this month detected levels of industrial solvents containing suspected carcinogens many thousands of times above those permitted by the state for drinking water and 3 1/2 to 5 times higher than those found earlier. The water was taken from a monitoring well north of the aerospace firm’s Burbank plant.

The water samples contained 43,000 parts per billion of perchloroethylene, an industrial cleanser, and 8,000 ppb of trichloroethylene, another cleaner that has been used little since 1966. The state limit for drinking water is four ppb for perchloroethylene and five ppb for trichloroethylene.

Solvents Found in Wells

Since 1980, high concentrations of the two solvents have been detected in water drawn from wells in Burbank and North Hollywood. Test wells drilled at Lockheed previously detected 12,000 ppb of perchloroethylene and 1,600 ppb of trichloroethylene.

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“You are looking at a much higher concentration,” said Hank Yacoub, supervising engineer for the Water Quality Control Board, which monitors sources of groundwater pollution. “I strongly believe there are many, many liable parties.”

The well, one of 16 Lockheed is drilling near its property, is on the city-owned site of the long-closed Benjamin Franklin Elementary School at Naomi Avenue near Thorton Street. Ghirelli said the high pollution levels were a surprise since the well was drilled to obtain uncontaminated water to be used as a normal standard against which to evaluate the polluted water.

It is very unlikely that Lockheed was responsible for the newly discovered pollution because the test well is north of the plant and underground water flows in a southerly direction, said company spokesman Jim Ragsdale. Ghirelli agreed with Ragsdale’s assessment.

Yacoub said the board will survey 100 to 120 businesses north of the test well in an attempt to determine which contributed to the pollution. Most of the plants are along San Fernando Road.

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State, City to Seek Payment

The state and city will then seek to have the businesses responsible pay for the costly cleanup and decontamination of the public drinking-water wells.

“We have got a major problem here, and it’s got to be corrected,” said Burbank Mayor Michael Hastings. “Or the city’s got to take some corrective measures.”

Lockheed has submitted a cleanup plan for groundwater beneath its 59-year-old Burbank plant. A long-buried World War II scrap heap and a tiny underground chemical tank with a hole in its side may be responsible for the pollution.

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In an Oct. 23 letter to Lockheed, Ghirelli approved the company’s cleanup plan, which included a proposal to broaden its survey of the extent and sources of contamination. He also told Lockheed to propose a plan to contain the contamination, including a timetable, by Nov. 30.


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