Polluted Ground Water Found at Schools : Public Not Endangered at 3 Sites, County Health Officials Say

Times Staff Writer

County health officials said Wednesday they have found contaminated soil and ground water, caused by leaking underground fuel tanks, at three high schools in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley. They stressed that the public has not been endangered.

Public Health Services spokesman Robert E. Merryman said the ground-water levels of benzene, a carcinogen found in gasoline, at Marina High School in Huntington Beach are the highest ever recorded in the county. The other schools are Fountain Valley and Edison high schools in Huntington Beach.

Merryman said the contamination the schools has not reached the drinking water in underground aquifers or produced hazardous vapors.

“The public has not been exposed to any dangers,” Merryman said. “If we can proceed with an expeditious cleanup, the public will not be endangered in any way.”


Merryman said the contamination was announced in a written statement issued under the rules of Proposition 65, a 1986 measure that requires public notice of any area or product that contains possibly carcinogenic materials.

David J. Hagen, assistant superintendent for the Huntington Beach Union School District, which administers all three schools where the contamination was found, said a consultant is preparing a plan for cleaning up the sites. He said the work is expected to cost about $300,000. That expenditure, he said, will cut deeply into the district’s maintenance budget for the year.

“We have warned all of our principals during this coming year that, obviously, emergency maintenance will be done but some of the other maintenance we might not get to,” Hagen said.

The tanks that leaked were used to store gasoline for school vehicles. They were removed last July when the schools began to use other facilities for fueling their cars.


Hagen said the tanks were inspected for leaks annually until a year before they were removed and the district was never warned about leaks. He said district officials believed they were being cautious in removing the tanks so they would not risk future leaks.

The district also removed underground fuel tanks at two other high schools, but they had not leaked. The leaking tanks were between 10 and 20 years old and had a capacity of about 1,000 gallons, the officials said.

The soil contamination levels ranged from about 58,000 parts per billion of benzene at Fountain Valley High School to 255,000 p.p.b. at Edison High School. The ground-water contamination levels ranged from 4,020 p.p.b. at Fountain Valley High School to 40,900 p.p.b. at Marina High School, the highest level ever recorded in the county.

The county’s written statement says the hazardous level for benzene in drinking water is 0.7 p.p.b.


Merryman explained that, while there is ground water 8 to 14 feet below the surface, the drinking water aquifer is about 200 feet below ground.

Since 1984, when a state law was passed requiring the inspection of all underground fuel tanks, the county has found 806 leaking tanks, Merryman said. He said 329 of those have been cleaned up. He said there are about 8,000 underground tanks in the county.