EPA digs into city's chromium 6 levels

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to install 30 wells in the Glendale-Burbank region in March to monitor levels of chromium 6 in underground water to get a fuller picture of how extensive the contamination is.

The move is another step in the federal agency’s 2007 investigation into the cancer-causing element’s potential threats to human health and the environment. The investigation will also aid California officials who are considering tighter restrictions on how much of the toxic element should be allowed in potable water.

Local water contains small amounts of chromium 6 due to decades-old underground contamination in the San Fernando industrial corridor left behind by the aero-tech manufacturing industry.

For years, Glendale has been studying ways to strip the element from its water. In the meantime, Glendale Water & Power has been blending local water with untainted imports from Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to ensure its own supplies remain well below contamination limits.

The city has so far spent more than $8 million on the project, much of which has come from government grants and payments made by a coalition of industry polluters.

About 20 monitoring wells already exist, but the EPA needs more in Glendale, Burbank and Los Angeles to test areas where data are missing.

“It’s mostly to figure out whether the areas [where] we don’t have wells have contamination,” said Lisa Hanusiak, an EPA project manager.

The EPA plans to collect groundwater samples from the wells every three months for two years, according to a city report. The results will help the EPA determine how best to remove chromium 6 from the groundwater.

The EPA has been working on removing other chemicals from the San Fernando Valley, such as solvents used for machinery degreasing and dry cleaning, since the 1980s, Hanusiak said.

While Glendale’s chromium 6-cleaning methods aid the EPA’s investigation, the two clean-ups are separate projects, Hanusiak said. Glendale is cleaning water it delivers to utility customers, while the EPA must clean a broader affected area.

The $3.2-million project is mostly being paid for by businesses potentially connected to the contamination, including Lockheed Martin, PRC DeSoto, ITT Corp. and Goodrich, Hanusiak said.

Over time, the EPA may find other potential contaminators and would loop them into the long-term study, Hanusiak said. She estimated it will cost the EPA millions more as the investigation continues.

“We have a long road ahead of us,” she said.

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