State and federal officials have rejected a proposal to cover toxic sludge with a concrete and earthen cap at Fullerton's McColl dump, agreeing with residents and city officials who contend the plan is unnecessary and could hinder future removal of the waste.
But while rejecting the plan proposed by five oil companies, state health officials said interim measures will be taken to reduce odors at the site until a permanent solution is found for cleanup of the World War II-era aviation-fuel waste site.
The $12.5-million capping plan was proposed by Shell Oil, Arco, Texaco, Unocal and Phillips Petroleum, which have been held responsible for dumping the refinery waste in the northwest Fullerton site.
When the proposal was presented to the community at an Oct. 26 public meeting, a spokesman for the oil companies said the plan was intended to be temporary but would stabilize the site and prevent exposure of buried waste in a major disaster, such as an earthquake.
But Angelo Bellomo, chief of the toxic substances control division of the state Health Department's Southern California section, said an evaluation of the site's stability showed no justification for the capping plan.
In addition, Bellomo said, state and federal officials are already studying permanent cleanup methods, including treatment and reburial of the waste, incineration and other capping methods.
"Our position was, why should we implement their proposal now, instead of waiting to evaluate all of the alternatives," Bellomo said. "It is our conclusion that stability at the site is not a major concern. The (oil companies') proposal in its entirety just goes too far, and it cannot be justified on a interim basis."
Oil company representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.
The project would have meant removing about 3,000 cubic yards of surface waste, building underground concrete walls to contain waste material and topping the site with a seven-foot-deep soil and fabric cover to control noxious odors.
Bellomo said, however, some interim measures are needed, adding that such a proposal would be presented at a public meeting tentatively scheduled for January.
Bellomo said the broad outlines of the proposal includes grading sections of the 10-acre site, placing a fabric cover over it to prevent rainwater from seeping down and passing gasses generated by the waste through a carbon-filtration system.
The oil company capping plan had drawn sharp criticism from city officials and residents alike, who argued that the cap would prove impractical to remove once in place and would constitute a cheap solution for the oil companies.
State health officials have estimated that a permanent cleanup plan may cost $50 million to $100 million.
Barry Eaton, Fullerton's chief planner, said the city had not been notified of the decision to reject the oil companies' capping plan, but he said the state and federal agencies' proposal appeared to be acceptable on an interim basis.
"We're just gratified that the plan put forward by the oil companies has been rejected," Eaton said. "Our concern was that the plan was really oversized for an interim solution and was really designed (to be) permanent."
Betty Porras, co-chairwoman of the McColl Action Committee, a neighborhood group that had opposed the capping plan, also praised the decision to reject it.
"As a neighborhood, we're very happy," Porras said. "We don't want a cap on the site. We're asking that the waste be removed and the entire site cleaned up. We neighbors feel like we have paid our dues, some of us for 10 years, living next to the dump."
Paula Bisson, chief of the state Superfund program for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said an environmental impact report on a permanent cleanup method will be completed in about a year. Bisson said despite its rejection as an interim measure, the oil companies' proposal will be included among those being considered as permanent solutions.
The McColl dump was used in 1942-46 to dispose of acid wastes created by the production of high-octane aviation fuel and later for oil drilling muds. In the 1970s, three residential developments were built around the site.
In May, 1985, a $26-million federal Superfund plan to transport waste from the dump to a Kern County disposal facility was blocked by court order just two days before excavation was to start.