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Plant 42 underground wells contaminated
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press December 7, 1998.

Valley Press Staff Writer


LANCASTER - In the expanding environmental investigation at Air Force Plant 42, an engineering consulting firm detected levels of the carcinogen trichloroethene (TCE) in the groundwater in two wells. While there is concern on the part of the Air Force, local officials and members of Air Force Plant 42 Environmental Restoration Advisory Board, preliminary findings by CH2M Hill in monitoring wells surrounding the area have found that the groundwater contamination appears to be contained.

Engineers think they have found the source of the TCE contamination - a ditch on Site 2 at Air Force Plant 42.

As a result of the findings, the Air Force has raised its relative risk ranking of Air Force Plant 42. The overall budget for Plant 42 cleanup is expected to be increased from about $5 million to nearly $18 million said George Warner, project manager for installation restoration investigating.

The findings were revealed at an ERAB meeting on Wednesday at the Antelope Valley Inn.

One well is at Site 1, the location of Boeing Reusable Space Systems; the other is at Site 2, the location where Lockheed Martin Skunk Works has done work on the U-2 and SR-71.

The Site 2 well has been around longer and has the most contamination. At a depth of 359 feet, samples found TCE in concentrations anywhere from 15 to 17 parts per billion.

Those findings are three times above the allowable level of 5 parts per billion set by the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Up until this point, all TCE findings have been below 5 parts per billion or not detectable.

Preliminary shallow soil gas results of the ditch show low TCE levels and deep soil investigation results also indicated low levels of TCE near the ditch.

The findings are something ERAB members have been pressing for. Member were initially told that Plant 42 is clean and that an ERAB wasn't needed.

"We kept pressing and pressing," said board member Ken Casper. "We kept asking simple things."

Even with the findings, engineers point out that the contamination isn't nearly as bad as Edwards Air Force Base.

The concern here is the proximity to local water districts. The TCE findings are near Avenue M. The Palmdale Water District has pumps outside of Plant 42 on the south side of Avenue P.

With the southward flow of the water table there is some concern.

"Any activity that's around a well site is a concern," said Denise Kuhlman, a Palmdale Water District representative who was at the ERAB meeting.

Edwards begins difficult Superfund site cleanup This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press December 16, 1998.

By SEAN KEARNS Valley Press Staff Writer


LANCASTER - With low water levels and fractured granite, Edwards Air Force Base environmental officials are beginning cleanup of one of the most challenging sites on base.
Site 37, at Air Force Research Laboratory Propulsion Directorate, has a plume of percholoroethylene or PCE with concentrations up to 46,000 parts per billion. The accepted levels are 5 parts per billion.

PCE was used as a solvent to clean rocket valves and rocket parts.

"It's very unique," said Ai Duong of the geological makeup of the site. Duong is program manager for Site 37.

Officials have begun a $1.5 million treatability study to determine if the site can be cleaned up and the best method to do so.

The study is beginning with two extraction wells with the possibility for three more depending on early results.

The site is one of 461 sites that give Edwards the Superfund designation. The Superfund was created in 1980 to clean up the most severe environmental hazards.

According to environmental officials, the low water levels and fractured granite have created a very slow moving plume, which they say will not come close to groundwater.

"The mountain is not feeding any water to groundwater that we drink," said Robert W. Wood, chief of environmental restoration and remedial project manager. "Will it go anywhere? Absolutely not."

Those same unique qualities that slowed the plume make it difficult to clean up.

Pump-and-treat methods found elsewhere on the base will be used in the first attempts to remove the contamination.

The difficulty with those methods is the lack of water at Site 37. That reduces pumping efficiency to anywhere from 1 to 5 gallons a minute, according to officials.

"Without water it's tough to get (PCE) out," said Wood.

Duong and Wood said that the mixture of the contaminated area amounts to sandy mud.

In addition, PCE weighs more than water and some of the contamination has entered the fractures in the granite. That can potentially send contamination hundreds of feet underground.

With such difficulties, officials are looking to develop new techniques to remove contamination - especially from the fractured granite.

"We try to look around and adapt technology," Wood said. "There's nothing on fractured bedrock. Most of the technology we have isn't designed for that."

One idea is to adapt the technique oil companies used to flush oil out of cracks.

In the pump-and-treat method, water is pumped out and cleaned using carbon, much like a fish tank. The treated water is released into the sewer system.

Duong and Wood said the results of the study could range anywhere from going forward with cleanup to leaving the area as it is.

"Right now it isn't going anywhere," Wood said. "So if you poke at it, is it going to get even bigger or worse?

"We have to be real careful we don't make things worse."


Officials study contaminated plume
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press January 24, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


NORTH EDWARDS - Environmental officials at Edwards Air Force Base are trying to determine the characteristics of a contaminated water plume in the North Base area before moving forward with cleanup. The slow-moving plume has been contaminated in areas by solvents and perchlorate, a substance used in rocket fuels. While the plume is heading toward the town of North Edwards, Edwards AFB officials said there is no evidence of contamination in North Edwards wells or water leaving the base.

During a presentation at the Edwards Restoration Advisory Board meeting Wednesday, engineers explained what they know so far about the nature of the plume. The advisory board is a group of people from Edwards AFB and communities surrounding the base that advises and oversees the cleanup effort.

The presentation was given by Todd Battey, a contracted engineer responsible for the North Base cleanup. He explained there is a general trend of water moving from Dryden and the main base to the North Base. What's unknown is if there is a way for the contaminated water to get out of the base area.

It's clear to officials that the water is slowly moving north.

Officials are installing four wells, 300 feet to 4,000 feet deep, to monitor water at the north border of Edwards. The wells, which cost about $25,000 each, will monitor the water at several depths.

There are two theories regarding the flow of the water in the North Base area. One is that the water can't flow off the base because of the Muroc fault which runs along Highway 58. The other is that the water is leaving the base through a small opening.

Robert Baron, chief of environmental restoration and remedial project manager at Edwards, said that knowing what's happening with the water can help engineers determine what clean-up methods to use.

"It's not a big plume but we need to understand it," Wood said.

This North Base cleanup effort is costing about $3 million, spokesman Gary Hatch said.

North Base was the site of the first Edwards cleanup 15 years ago. That Site 1 cleanup involved a number of buried, 55-gallon drums, as well as hazardous waste.

Those sites were cleaned, then capped off in 1986. Wood said that monitoring wells near Site 1 have not shown further spread of any remaining contamination.


Residents voice fear of groundwater pollution
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press April 1, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


PALMDALE - Fear that impure water from the California Aqueduct may be spread on Tejon Ranch for storage in the Antelope Valley's pristine westside aquifer drew a crowd of dozens to air the issue on Tuesday night.
Back in February, Western Water Co. of Orange County asked an ad-hoc committee of the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency to help with a one-year, pilot water banking project at Tejon Ranch.

On Tuesday, Western's management team made the same pitch to the full AVEK board. A concerned public turned out in numbers not commonly seen at the water agency's meetings.

Westside property owners who spoke on Tuesday hope the AVEK board considers an option that doesn't include what they call the possible pollution of the area's groundwater.

"The water from the aqueduct is not clean water," said Richard Smith, who owns 390 acres near the Tejon Ranch. "The water will migrate. The soil is porous and sandy."

Michael George, president and CEO of Western Water, said his company plans to bring water into the Antelope Valley, store it underground and sell it to points south for a profit. To do that, he said, he needs a way to get the water to the Antelope Valley, and he needs a place to store it.

That's where AVEK comes in.

Smith wanted to know how Western Water would keep his well and others from becoming contaminated.

George said the soil should filter out the organic materials found in aqueduct water, and cautioned against the use of the word "contamination."

"Twenty million people in Southern California drink this stuff," he said of the aqueduct water. "It does meet quality standards."

"There is a need to bring water into the Antelope Valley," said AVEK Board President George Lane. "The board has drawn no conclusions on this proposal. We are looking for comments from interested parties."

Jim Tatum, who staffs the Victorville office of Western Water, told those gathered that water banking is common in California, but new to the Antelope Valley. Western has been involved in water marketing since 1990.

AVEK is the Antelope Valley's largest buyer and seller of water from the State Water Project's California Aqueduct. Western Water wants to use some of AVEK's capacity to move water to Tejon Ranch, or to buy AVEK water outright for the year-long study. George said he needs between 5,000 and 10,000 acre-feet of water for the first year.

About 90% of the amount of water spread on Tejon land would be pumped from wells in the area. The water would be pumped from the ground and piped into the California Aqueduct or the Los Angeles Aqueduct, said Larry Rowe, engineer for Western Water.

If the pilot project is deemed successful, George said his company could spread as much as 50,000 to 70,000 acre-feet of water on Tejon Ranch in coming years. He said based on engineering studies, the westside aquifer may be able to store up to 250,000 acre-feet of water. He also stressed that the company would never take out more water than it spread.

If AVEK decides to support the venture, Western proposes to give the agency $25,000 for anticipated administrative attention. AVEK could also have future opportunities to store its own water in the project, George said.

Keith Dyas, vice president of the AVEK board, said the Antelope Valley needs some mechanism to carry it over from wet years to dry years, and that Western's proposal is just one of several options to be considered.

Lee Richardson of the Quartz Hill Water District also spoke to the issue of keeping the Valley's groundwater pristine.

"This Valley is a bowl," Richardson said. "What comes in here stays in here. We know the water from the aqueduct is saltier than our groundwater."

Richardson said in his opinion, anything more polluted than what is already there constitutes pollution.

Leopold Hlavacek, a westside orchard operator, also spoke against the project.

"I don't believe I'm hearing what I'm hearing," he said. "You guys will be the ones making money on it and you are the ones to monitor what goes in and what goes out?"

George said Western Water will be flexible to the requests of the project's neighbors.

"In our business, we can't afford to leave a mess behind us anywhere," George said. "The last thing we want is for Western Water to be accused of taking local groundwater and selling it for export."

The AVEK board will discuss the proposal again at a future meeting, possibly the next board meeting, directors said.

The next meeting is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 6, in the agency office, 6500 West Ave. N, Palmdale.


New contamination found at Edwards
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press January 18, 2000
Valley Press Staff Writer


EDWARDS AFB - More contamination has been found in the aquifer under Edwards Air Force Base, but is not believed to pose a health threat. The contamination is believed to be related to fuels used by the Air Force Flight Test Center in decades past.

The latest site is under an exotic fuel storage area west of the National Aeronautics Space Administration's Dryden Flight Research Center.

Water in the area is not used for drinking, so it poses no threat to health, officials said.

What researchers found was Nnitrosodiumethylamine, more commonly referred to by water quality experts as NDMA. Known to cause cancer in lab rats, NDMA was found while researchers were scoping the extent of the presence of trichloroethylene, another cancer-causing contaminant known to be in the area's groundwater.

The NDMA discovery adds one more site to more than 460 on the Kern County base identified as potentially contaminated.

The base was added to the national Superfund cleanup list in 1990, and was considered a toxic hot spot long before that by environmental and water-quality activists.

About 140 of the potentially toxic sites have been cleaned up. More than $325 million and 30 years are expected to be needed to finish the hundreds of cleanup jobs.

NDMA is used in the production of liquid rocket fuel.

Because NDMA historically has not been considered a common drinking water contaminant, it has no state or federal drinking water standards, according to the California Department of Health Services.


While EPA officials say contaminated trenches surrounding 2-year-old dormitories at Edwards Air Force Base are safe, Air Force officials are still testing the soil for what may be traces of a World War I-era chemical weapon - mustard gas. Valley Press Staff Writer Brenda Zahn reports.

Edwards AFB to test for mustard gas
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press February 19, 2000.

Valley Press Staff Writer


CALIFORNIA CITY - While EPA officials say contaminated trenches surrounding 2-year-old dormitories at Edwards Air Force Base are safe, Air Force officials are still testing the soil for what may be traces of a World War I-era chemical weapon - mustard gas.
Testing continues in the trenches at Edwards after trace amounts of what could be the gas were found in trenches last year.

The base's Restoration Advisory Board met in California City on Thursday to discuss testing trenches near the new $11 million airmen's dormitories. They also heard about the progress at other sites on base, which also could contain contaminates.

Given the history of the area, the trenches at Site 426 could be filled with variations of mustard gas. Then again, they could be filled with simple, everyday trash.

With new barracks full of airmen just 23.5 feet away, finding out if the stuff in the trenches could be harmful is of interest to a lot of folks.

Determining the contents of the trenches has been part of a fiveyear study by the Environmental Management Office at Edwards Air Force Base.

The first soil and air samples taken around the trenches revealed no trace of chemical weapons, said Rebecca Hobbs, installation restoration program project manager. One soil and air survey indicated trace amounts of two chemicals - either the product of mustard degradation or the product of discarded diesel fuel.

After investigating the data and finding the gas levels significantly below EPA standards, Edwards environmental officials decided to move in the troops in February 1998.

The base is now testing the trenches again to learn more about their mysterious contents, Hobbs said Thursday. They are doing their second round of passive soilgas tests - using cups containing a carbon-based absorbent material to test the soil.

Toward the end of March, they will begin drilling near the trenches to gather more soil samples. Drilling should last between four and six weeks, said Gary Hatch, chief of environmental public affairs at Edwards.

Everyone doing the drilling will wear respirators and protective suits.

"We're going to err on the side of caution," Hobbs said about the testing.

Throughout the process, base personnel has been consulting with the Army - a military branch with more experience in these matters, Hobbs said.

"We don't really think we're going to find anything, but we want to be prepared if we do," she said.

After the results of the testing are in, the base will do an engineering evaluation cost analysis, which studies the options available and the cost of each cleanup option. The public will be able to see and comment on the finished analysis.

Despite the high community interest in cleaning up the contaminated sites on base, the RAB board decided not to allow public comment at the meeting, after an EPA official suggested the board take public comment on the issue.

"There's no opportunity for the public to directly address the RAB at some point during the meeting," said David Cooper, community involvement coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Instead, Cooper said citizens of the affected areas must comment to the board through their area representative.

In all, about 20 people showed up at the RAB meeting, mostly EPA and Edwards officials involved in the site studies, testing and cleanup. No one from the public requested to address the board before or after Cooper's request.

All the RAB members, polled individually, said they liked the system the way it is. Ruby Messersmith, North Edwards' representative, said the board used to allow public comment, but at her first meeting someone stood up and said they were taking names and would sue everyone there.

"Why should we put up with that?" Messersmith said.

"We would prefer you not throw out the baby with the bath water," Cooper told her.

Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts, another RAB board member, said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The discussion in the public meeting ended after all board members repeated like sentiments.

"We have a consensus, and we don't want to change this issue, and I want this to be the last (mention) of it at this meeting," said Jim Otero, public co-chair for RAB.

Also at Thursday's meeting, the board heard about the cleanup plan for Site 25, an unconventional fuel storage site located south and west of where Lancaster and Rosamond boulevards meet at the north end of the main base.

Site 25 contains a breakdown product of a rocket fuel. An EE/CA has been done and is now undergoing regulatory review. The public should be able to review the report in May, after which they will have 30 days to comment.

Two public meetings are planned to discuss the site - May 10 at the NASA complex and May 17 somewhere off base.

The is base also working on how to clean up groundwater contaminated with MTBE. MTBE, methyl tertiary-butyl ether, has been found at four locations on base. Two are at environmental cleanup sites at the Air Force Research Laboratory Propulsion Directorate and two are closer to the main base.

MTBE is a petroleum-based chemical called an oxygenate that is put in gasoline to make it burn more completely, thus cutting down on air emissions.

Federal clean-air orders in 1996 resulted in the compound being added to gasoline in California's smoggiest areas, home to about two-thirds of the state's population. In those areas, MTBE accounts for about 11% of each gallon of gasoline.

However, the compound has been identified as an animal carcinogen potentially harmful to humans, and various groups have called for its ban. The chemical moves quickly into groundwater, and some 3,000 sites across the state have tested positive for MTBE in varying amounts, stemming at least in part from twostroke marine engines that spew unburned MTBE into lakes and rivers.

On base, the chemical has been detected at its highest concentration - 1,400 parts per billion - in groundwater underlying the gas station at the research laboratory's Installation Restoration Program Site 133.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set 2 parts per billion as a safe level for drinking water.

The groundwater contaminated with MTBE is too shallow to affect drinking water, Hatch said. Drinking water comes from between 400 and 600 feet underground. This water is 10 to 100 feet down, he said.

The base is using "pump-andtreat with a granular activatedcarbon system to remove contaminants in the water."

MTBE was detected at 23 parts per billion in the groundwater at an old fire-training pit at the research lab's Site 26. It has also been detected at 47 parts per billion in the groundwater near an old fuel pipeline, Site 63; and in the soil at 0.0015 parts per billion at the unconventional fuels storage yard, Site 25 - where the other testing is going on.

MTBE is not in the groundwater at Site 25.

Hatch said the Environmental Restoration Division has thoroughly tested all locations where the compound might be found and has not detected it anywhere besides the four spots.

"We think the system we have in place will work on it," he said.

In all, Edwards Air Force Base has found 469 sites or areas of concern for contaminants. It's the Restoration Advisory Board's job to promote community awareness of base cleanup efforts.

Edwards has a Superfund designation. The Superfund was created in 1980 to clean up the most severe environmental hazards.

RAB includes 13 members, six of whom are from communities surrounding Edwards Air Force Base. The other seven members either work or live on base. Representatives must live or work in the areas they represent.

Most of the areas that need to be cleaned up at Edwards are places where aviation fuel or solvents were spilled over the years, Hatch said.

The next Restoration Advisory Board meeting is May 18.