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State Runs Out of Funds for Testing Wells Near Toxic Dumping Area

Times Staff Writer

The State Water Quality Resources Board said Tuesday it has run out of money to test pollution levels in private wells near a Santa Clarita Valley defense plant that illegally dumped toxic chemicals.

Board representative Tom Bell said that after this month, Los Angeles County should take over testing of 15 wells near the site of the Space Ordnance Systems plant in Agua Dulce’s Mint Canyon. Bell made the remarks to a committee established by the Board of Supervisors in 1986 to oversee state-ordered removal of toxic materials at the plant and at a second SOS facility in Sand Canyon.

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman JoAnne Darcy, a field deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said afterward that testing at Mint Canyon “will continue, whether it be by the state or the county.”

More Faith in State

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But Agua Dulce residents, worried that toxic chemicals from the plant might taint drinking water, said at the meeting they have more faith in the state agency than in the county. Committee member Karol Roff of Agua Dulce said county officials were responsible for the testing during a brief period about three years ago. She said the county cited lab error whenever anything was amiss in the water.

The monitoring committee met Tuesday to discuss the effect of the planned closure of the Mint Canyon plant July 16.

Bell, a committee member, said the state has been testing private wells at the Mint Canyon site since 1984, when health and law-enforcement agencies raided SOS and found widespread evidence of illegal dumping and storage of solvents and chemicals.

Since then, Bell said, tests have uncovered no significant pollutants in private well water. “We have no indication that contamination” from the defense plant has reached the wells, he said.

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However, residents said trace elements of methyl ethel ketone and carbon tetrachloride were found in one well during February testing.

Bell confirmed that those chemicals had been found in levels below state and federal safety standards. He said the state intended to retest that well this month.

$6,000 a Year

Bell said the state has spent about $6,000 a year on the testing for the last five years and recently “just ran out of money” for the Agua Dulce site. He said state officials had decided the money would be better spent in other areas.

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“It’s a matter of priority,” Bell said. “We want the county to pick up the load.”

But, he added, “We’re not going to just walk away.” He said the state would continue to review test results.

Darcy, chairman of the monitoring committee, said the county possibly could contract with the state to test the wells. She said she believes that SOS officials will reimburse the state for the testing.

SOS officials would not comment on the proposal because of pending court action in which the company’s landlord, Allied-Signal, is challenging its obligation to pay for cleanup and testing at the Mint Canyon site.

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Roff said residents are concerned that toxic chemicals from the defense plant will seep into the wells that supply their drinking water.

“I’d like to see the tests done once a month,” she said.

“I would like to see the state continue,” said resident Patti Martin.

Roff added that residents who live downhill from the defense plant “don’t know what the hell is going on.”

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Testing Complete

Rita Garasi, who represents Sand Canyon on the committee, said the situation is very different at the plant near her home. She said the community has seen “a very professional cleanup with fine soil testing. We’re completely satisfied.” Testing at that facility is complete.

Garasi said that the Allied-Signal court action has delayed cleanup at the Mint Canyon site.

Cleanup of the two SOS facilities came under further public scrutiny last month after the Newhall Signal published an article in which members of a Sand Canyon family charged that SOS was responsible for four deaths in the family since 1983. Three of the deaths were caused by leukemia. The fourth was caused by kidney cancer. State officials have said there is no evidence that the deaths were linked to contamination at SOS.

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Officials said a meeting on the health implications of the toxic chemicals is tentatively scheduled for the first week in August.


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