EPA Orders $60 Million Cleanup at California Aerospace Superfund Site

SACRAMENTO, California, September 28, 2011 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today ordered a $60 million cleanup of groundwater polluted with rocket fuel at the Aerojet Superfund Site in Sacramento County, the latest phase of a long-term decontamination project at the site.

The extent of pollution at the site makes it one of the largest and most comprehensive Superfund groundwater cleanups in California.

A 27-square mile area of groundwater underneath and around the former aerospace facility is polluted with several compounds, including very high levels of perchlorate, a main component of rocket fuel, and a known developmental toxin.

Aerojet, under the direction of the EPA, will contain the underground plume to prevent it from spreading into nearby rivers and streams. Future plans will also treat groundwater within the site’s boundaries.

“This cleanup tackles the worst areas first to prevent toxic chemicals from fouling any additional water sources,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

“Not only is EPA holding Aerojet accountable for its pollution, but we want to assure local residents that they will have safe drinking water for years to come as the company works to restore the underground aquifer,” said Blumenfeld.

The EPA approved the first groundwater cleanup for a small, highly populated section of the Aerojet site in 2001.

In the enforcement orders announced today, Aerojet must fund and construct a water treatment facility that will limit water contamination within set boundaries and purify some 25 million gallons of groundwater daily in order to prevent the loss of additional drinking water supplies.

The widespread contamination at the site will require at least five additional cleanup plans for groundwater and soil over the coming decade.

EPA will continue to oversee the company’s efforts and actively monitor a large number of wells at the site to assess the efficacy of the groundwater containment system.

The agency is also working with state and local environmental regulatory partners, including the state water board and department of toxic substances control.

The Aerojet General Corporation site covers 8,500 acres near Rancho Cordova, 15 miles east of Sacramento, and is about half a mile from the American River.

Since 1953, Aerojet and its subsidiaries have manufactured liquid and solid propellant rocket engines for military and commercial applications and have formulated a number of chemicals, including rocket propellant agents, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and other industrial chemicals.

In addition, the Cordova Chemical Company operated chemical manufacturing facilities on the Aerojet complex from 1974 to 1979.

Both companies disposed of unknown quantities of hazardous waste chemicals, including trichloroethylene, a colorless liquid used as a solvent for cleaning metal parts, and other chemicals associated with rocket propellants, as well as various chemical processing wastes.

Aerojet built a solar array to provide power to the cleanup effort. (Photo courtesy EPA)

Some wastes were disposed of in surface impoundments, landfills, deep injection wells, leachate fields, and some were disposed by open burning.

To mitigate some of these environmental impacts, Aerojet partnered with their electricity provider, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and a solar development company, Solar Power, Inc. to commission and build a 40-acre photovoltaic power array, which converts sunlight into electricity.

Its final generating capacity will be 6.0 megawatts, using almost 30,000 panels, making this the largest single-site industrial solar-powered system in California, and the largest at a Superfund site in the country.

The system will provide more than 20 percent of the electricity required to operate the groundwater remediation system at Aerojet.

It sits on land that was otherwise considered difficult to sell or develop due to the ongoing Superfund cleanup. EPA and state officials worked with Aerojet to build the solar facility in a location that minimized environmental impacts and doesn’t hinder ongoing cleanup activities.

The Community Advisory Group for Aerojet Superfund issues meets bimonthly to exchange information with regulatory agencies and Aerojet on the current status of and community concerns regarding the investigation and cleanup of area groundwater contamination.

Click here for a full history of the Aerojet Superfund Site.

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