Groundwater Pollution in the San Fernando Valley

Today’s lead editorial in the Los Angeles Daily News addresses a long-standing water quality problem for the City of Los Angeles and neighboring communities in the San Fernando Valley: groundwater pollution. See:
This is a follow-up to a report from July 3 on the same topic. The report and the editorial have the right idea but, unfortunately, they were researched and written by journalism majors, who typically avoid science courses like the plague. The result is similar to what this blog would resemble if I were reporting on activities in Russia, and spoke only with people in Russian dialects — even though I don’t speak Russian. I might ultimately get the gist of things, but the details would escape me. So, too, with the Daily News pieces. I’ll attempt to “translate” for you.
Knowing history is always important. The sleepy SFV became an industrial monster during and following World War II. (Hence, today’s photo of “Rosie the Riveter”) Local burial was the fate for many of the wastes generated by these industries. These wastes often contained heavy metals like chromium, or solvents like TCE. We wouldn’t bury such wastes today, but burial would have been considered the “best available technology” at that time. Very few people ever suspected that this would eventually cause widespread contamination of the local water supply. (If they had, no one would have done it! I wonder if we should blame the Roosevelt administration for lack of oversight? But, I digress.)
Who is responsible for the groundwater contamination? The elusiveness of the answer to this question is the main reason behind the extended delays in addressing this problem. The SFV was declared an EPA Superfund site in 1986 — and I’m sure that declaration itself took several years. So this has been on water quality people’s minds for at least 30 years. By today’s laws, the “perp” — officially, “Potentially Responsible Party” — is the party that generated the waste. Many of the WWII-era industries are long gone. Some remain, but feel that the federal government is the real generator of the wastes, rather than the industry, since they were only building things that the government wanted.
Nobody wants to admit anything, because the price tag to clean this up is enormous. The City of Los Angeles’ current estimate is for an $850 million facility! The Daily News doesn’t really say it, but I am guessing that is only the initial construction cost, and the real dollars might be in decades of operations and maintenance costs. And this doesn’t include the costs already incurred, or the costs of the neighboring cities of Burbank and Glendale that are dealing with the same issue.
Perhaps we should sue “Rosie the Riveter” as the PRP. I imagine what with base pay and overtime, she should have a couple billion dollars stashed away, right?
More on this issue in the next blog.

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