Toxic plume along Felicita Road still an issue

ESCONDIDO — A decades old large toxic plume in southwestern Escondido has once again concerned residents and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

About 34 years ago, the Chatham Brothers Barrel Yard was shut down because storage drums were leaking toxic material in the soil.

The waste material has been cleaned up and 11,000 tons of debris were removed from the site at the expense of the companies who delivered the barrels full of toxic material.

However, the groundwater was contaminated and spread to Felicita Creek.

The rendering shows the Chatham Plume spread in the groundwater in southwestern Escondido. The orange represents 100 parts per billion of carcinogenic substance, trichloroethene and the purple shows it at 10 parts per billion. The maximum amount allowed to be present in the drinking water mandated by the state is 1.7 parts per billion.  Image courtesy Escondido Neighbors United

The rendering shows the Chatham Plume spread in the groundwater in southwestern Escondido. The orange represents 100 parts per billion of carcinogenic substance, trichloroethene and the purple shows it at 10 parts per billion. The maximum amount allowed to be present in the drinking water mandated by the state is 1.7 parts per billion. Image courtesy Escondido Neighbors United

At a meeting held last September, staff from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control said the pollution levels in the creek are so low that they’re not a concern to humans.

On March 17, the state department released their review of an evaluation update published by Hargis and Associates, Inc.

The Chatham Site Potential Responsible Parties Group or the PRP, which consists of the companies responsible for the original contamination, hired Hargis to do the report, which was requested by the state.

Nearly 40 corporations make up the PRP, including The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Solar Turbines Inc., and multiple helicopter and airplane manufacturing companies.

Theodore Johnson, senior engineering geologist with the state, said the evaluation update does not provide effective measures to stop the flow of the plume.

Johnson asked the members of PRP to provide an alternative analysis, to evaluate technical effectiveness, feasibility and the cost to treat the underground toxic plume.

Members from local resident activist group, Escondido Neighbors United, have expressed their concerns about the plume, specifically as it relates to the upcoming Southwest sewer replacement project.

The sewer replacement program aims to get rid of three sewer lift stations along a 3.4-mile segment along Felicita Road, Via Rancho Parkway and Park Drive.

HELIX Environmental Planning Inc. was hired by the city for a mitigation report as part of the sewer project.

In the report, staff wrote that the levels of a carcinogenic substance, trichloroethene, were three times higher along Felicita Road between Hamilton Lane and Via Rancho Parkway than the maximum considered safe by the state.

The report also said that since trenching will dig about 14 feet underground, there is a high likelihood of hitting the toxic groundwater.

“Due to the relatively shallow depth to groundwater in the immediate vicinity of the Felicita Road portions of the alignment, there is potential for encountering contaminated groundwater during project construction, resulting in a potentially significant impact,” HELIX staff wrote.

A 65-home development is also planned near the toxic groundwater.

On March 4, the city approved a 65-home development along Felicita Road.

New Urban West, Inc., has been working on the Oak Creek development for the past two years.

The project is planned for a 41.4-acre property along Miller Avenue, Hamilton Lane and Felicita Road.

City Attorney Jeffrey Epp said at the March 4 meeting that the city does not have jurisdiction over the toxic plume, but it is the responsibility of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.

“We’re constrained from doing something because that’s the way the law is set up,” Epp said. “To some extent if we were to get too involved, we could run the foul of interfering with their processes. We have to respect the lines of authority.”

Edward D. Modiano, Project Coordinator for the PRP group responded to the state’s request for mitigation efforts.

He said they will hold a technical workshop either April 13 or 14 at the state department’s control offices in Cypress to “discuss the available data, potential technologies, challenges of implementing those technologies, and any further data needs for evaluating Felicita Creek alternatives.”

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