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Firms to Fund Design of Treatment System : Environment: EPA officials hail the agreement as a major first step in cleaning up Glendale’s ground water.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Twenty-five companies suspected of leaking chemical pollutants have agreed to spend about $4 million to design a treatment system to clean up tainted ground water in Glendale, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

EPA officials hailed the agreement as an important first step in the Superfund cleanup of Glendale ground-water supplies. However, they acknowledged that it does not resolve the thornier question of how to divide the much larger cost of building and running the treatment system when its design is completed two years from now.

Under the Superfund program, the EPA targets the worst toxic waste sites and seeks to make polluters pay for the cleanup.

Glendale and neighboring areas of the San Fernando Valley have been declared Superfund sites due to lake-size plumes of chemically tainted ground water that have forced the cities of Glendale, Burbank and Los Angeles to idle municipal water supply wells.

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The main pollutants--trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene--are common solvents that are thought to have been leaked or spilled over several decades by a variety of users, including aerospace, metal-plating, auto-repair and dry-cleaning firms.

The firms signing the design agreement--including Lockheed Corp., ITT Corp., Southern Pacific Transportation Co. and the Walt Disney Co.--did not admit liability for the pollution. But they pledged to join forces to design a treatment plant that will operate a dozen years, purifying 5,000 gallons of ground water per minute for use by Glendale homes and businesses.

EPA officials have estimated the total cost of the Glendale cleanup at $47 million to $60 million.

In most Superfund cases, litigation or cost-sharing negotiations involve all phases of cleanup--so that design is delayed for months or years while disputes are resolved.

In the Glendale case, however, design work will proceed while the EPA and companies negotiate over the more expensive phases of construction and operation, said Claire Trombadore, a Superfund project manager with the EPA’s San Francisco regional office.

Another benefit of this approach, Trombadore said, is that during the design phase the EPA will continue looking for other potential polluters, which could result in lower cleanup costs per company.

Cleanup efforts are farther along in North Hollywood and Burbank. In North Hollywood, where a small treatment plant has been operating for more than four years, the EPA is negotiating with some firms and has sued others to recoup $17.2 million spent on the treatment system and the wider investigation of Valley ground-water pollution.

In Burbank, Lockheed has nearly finished construction of a large ground-water treatment system under an agreement with the EPA, and is threatening to sue other Burbank-area firms if they refuse to help pay for the work.

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