Carcinogens Seeped Into Wells From Factory, U.S. Says : Toxics: The report comes after a family blamed four deaths on a nearby Santa Clarita Valley plant.


Neighbors of a Santa Clarita Valley munitions plant may have been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals that seeped into the ground water underneath the factory, a federal report has concluded, contradicting earlier studies by Los Angeles County and state health authorities.

The report on the Space Ordnance Systems facility, west of the Antelope Valley Freeway in Sand Canyon, was prepared by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) last summer requested that the report be prepared, after the family of Robert Hercules charged that pollution from SOS led to four cancer deaths in the family between 1983 and 1989. Another Sand Canyon resident conducted an informal survey of neighbors showing what she claimed were unusually high cancer rates in the community.

The agency’s report, released last week, did not brand the plant a definite threat to public health but said data from well water samples and computer analysis indicate that hazardous substances migrated off the SOS site and into domestic water supplies. These include benzene and trichloroethylene, both known carcinogens, the report said.


There is reasonable evidence showing adverse health effects could result from the pollution by SOS, said Joseph L. Hughart, an environmental health specialist who prepared the report.

“We do know that some people were exposed to some carcinogens in the ground water,” Hughart said Monday.

The report advised residents living close to the plant in Sand and Gorman canyons not to use water from private wells. There are eight private wells in the nearby area.

None of the wells in question feed the local public water supply, provided by the Santa Clarita Water Co. The company gets water from several sources, including other wells in Sand Canyon outside the area the report warned of. An early test that indicated pollution of a well supplying the company turned out to be a mistake, the report said.

SOS, a division of TransTechnology Corp., had produced flares and explosives in Sand Canyon since 1967. In March, 1984, law enforcement officers and health officials raided the company’s two plants in Sand Canyon and Mint Canyon and found more than 1,000 barrels of improperly stored hazardous waste.

The company illegally disposed of water tainted by solvents, spraying it from sprinklers and dumping it in creek beds. SOS paid $300,000 in fines and two company executives served brief jail terms.

SOS was sold in March to Universal Propulsion Co. of Phoenix and the plant is expected to move to Arizona sometime this year.

A monitoring committee of county and state health officials, Sand Canyon residents and SOS officials was created in 1985 to oversee the cleanup of the site, which is almost complete. The committee’s studies have repeatedly indicated that SOS pollution had not entered the local water table.

The report’s conclusions were reached using much of the same data that had been used by earlier researchers but employing different computer models for analysis, Hughart said. He was unavailable for comment on why the results differed.

Members of that committee and officials familiar with the company’s record in Sand Canyon said Monday they were surprised by the federal agency’s report.

“We’re having a hard time with that,” said Burl Alison, a TransTechnology vice president, of the report’s findings. “It’s hard for us to understand, with all respect.”

Bill Manetta, president of the Santa Clarita Water Co., agreed.

“It’s surprising to me,” he said of the report. As for the report’s warning on well water, “I guess they want to cover themselves,” he said.

He was also surprised by the report’s reference to a well at the Hercules family home. As far as he knew, Manetta said, the family was connected to the public water supply.

Robert Hercules’ widow, Marilyn Hercules, said the reference to the well is incorrect and that the house was on the public water system.

But she said she was pleased that the report challenged the claim of county and state health officials that the pollution was confined to the SOS plant.

“This report from the ATSDR absolutely shoots it full of holes,” she said, speaking of the claim. “What it doesn’t establish is causation.”

The report also analyzed three studies which have been conducted on the incidence of disease in Sand Canyon. The report said that for reasons ranging from sample size to format, the studies are inconclusive.