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Cam Noltemeyer: Where has our little CAG gone?

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: November 4, 2009 9:48 p.m.
Updated: November 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
For many years the Whittaker-Bermite facility made ordnance in the Santa Clarita Valley for the military. This 996-acre property, located off Soledad Canyon Road in the center of our city, is still polluting our groundwater with the chemicals used to make those bombs.

At the time, Whittaker was established, the Santa Clarita Valley was mostly empty farmland. It didn't seem to matter whether chemicals were dumped or handled carelessly because no one was around anyway.

Additionally, no one understood the effects such chemicals had on human health, though looking back, it seems like they should have.

Now such practices have come back to bite us. With the huge population increase in our area, families and children are dealing with the aftermath. Many of the chemicals in the soil, such as TCE and PCE that seeped into the groundwater, have been found to be cancer-causing. Ammonium perchlorate, another pollutant used in the manufacturing operation, interrupts thyroid production and may cause retardation in small children and fetuses.

When the water agencies discovered this problem, they closed down the affected wells. That reduced our water supply and will cost millions of dollars to clean up.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is the state agency in charge of the cleanup. California law ensures the public can be involved with the cleanup. The state legislators rightly felt that the local community would be most knowledgeable and the most affected by any pollution problem, and therefore should be involved in the clean-up process. They wanted to ensure the local community would be informed of progress and procedures and have an opportunity to give input and provide information.

As a result, once a pollution site receives a clean-up order, the local community can established a community advisory group, or CAG. Such a committee was established by residents surrounding the Rocketdyne site in the San Fernando Valley and for the Whittaker-Bermite site in the Santa Clarita Valley.

But while residents near the Rocketdyne site remain active in demanding comprehensive cleanup for the soil and water affecting their neighborhood, our CAG has all but disappeared.

Does that mean the cleanup is going so well no one feels they need to watch it anymore? Probably not.

Pressure to develop an area such as the Whittaker-Bermite site and a corresponding pressure to reduce costs may result in skimping on cleanup, if no one is watching. That was the whole purpose of establishing a CAG - to make sure the cleanup was thorough and in the public's interest.

The cleanup at the Whittaker-Bermite site was divided into seven "operating units" for clean-up purposes. Only the first of these clean-up units has been completed. Contaminants in the soil will continue to pollute the groundwater if they are not cleaned up.

We urged the public to fill out survey forms distributed last month by the Department of Toxic Substances Control, but as many people seem unaware of the pollution problem in our midst, it is unclear how many residents actually returned the survey.

The water agencies recently touted an "opening" of water clean-up facilities with a big news conference, but oddly, these facilities are still not operating. Also, the water clean-up process will only remove ammonium perchlorate. Any TCE or PCE above health standards cannot be removed with their process.

For many years, I attended the CAG and the multi-jurisdictional meeting. The CAG used to meet right after the multi-jurisdiction meeting of local and oversight agencies. The next such meeting of the Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force is Dec. 9 from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 P.M., in the first floor conference room at Santa Clarita City Hall, located at 23920 Valencia Blvd. The Citizens Advisory Group does not have a time listed.

We urge members of the public to attend and stay to re-form a CAG for the Whittaker-Bermite site. We must be involved and take responsibility in our community if we want a clean and healthy place to live. Participation is what democracy is all about.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) board member and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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