WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2012 (ENS) – A Superfund site contaminated by decades of fireworks manufacturing will be cleaned under two settlements reached today by the U.S. government with companies and local governments.

The United States has entered into two settlements worth more than $50 million to clean groundwater at the B.F. Goodrich Superfund Site in San Bernardino County, California.

The area’s groundwater is contaminated with trichloroethylene, TCE, and perchlorate, which has forced the closure of public drinking water supply wells in the cities of Rialto and Colton in the southeastern corner of the state.

TCE is an industrial cleaning solvent. Drinking or breathing high levels may cause damage to the nervous system, liver and lungs. Perchlorate is an ingredient in many flares and fireworks, and in rocket propellant, and may disrupt the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones needed for normal growth and development.

For decades, the Superfund site was used to store, test and manufacture fireworks, munitions, rocket motors and pyrotechnics and was added to the EPA’s Superfund List in September 2009.

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Pyro Spectaculars fireworks show in Guerneville California, 2011 (Photo by kkl59)

There are a dozen settling parties including Emhart Industries and Pyro Spectaculars, Inc., one of the largest U.S. fireworks companies, as well as the cities of Rialto and Colton and County of San Bernardino.

A company acquired by Emhart manufactured flares and other pyrotechnics at the site for the military in the 1950s. Pyro Spectaculars has operated at the site since 1979, designing fireworks shows produced throughout the United States.

“For decades, the defendants have been polluting this critical source of drinking water with both perchlorate and industrial solvents,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Today’s historic settlement ensures that the impacted communities in Southern California will finally have their drinking water sources restored.”

Under one agreement, Emhart will perform the first portion of the cleanup, which is estimated to cost $43 million over the next 30 years to design, build and operate groundwater wells, treatment systems and other equipment needed to clean up the contaminated groundwater at the site. A portion of these funds will come from other settling parties, including the U.S. Defense Department.

The cities of Rialto and Colton will receive $9 million.

The Emhart settlement includes: Black & Decker Inc, American Promotional Events Inc., the Department of Defense, the Ensign-Bickford Company, Raytheon, Whittaker Corporation, Broco Inc., and J.S. Brower & Associates Inc. and related companies, as well as the cities of Rialto and Colton and the County of San Bernardino.

As part of the second agreement, six entities, including Pyro Spectaculars and its former subsidiary, will pay a combined $4.3 million to the EPA toward cleanup at the site and $1.3 million to the cities of Rialto and Colton and San Bernardino County.

The entities involved in this settlement include: Pyro Spectaculars, Trojan Fireworks, Thomas O. Peters and related trusts, and Stonehurst Site.

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Pyro Spectaculars fireworks show at Riverside, California, November 2012 (Photo courtesy Pyro Spectaculars)

EPA used government funds to pay for investigation and cleanup work at the site while investigating potentially responsible parties for their role in the contamination.

The U.S. government, on behalf of the EPA, sued Emhart and PSI, as well as the Goodrich Corporation, the estate of Harry Hescox and its representative, Wong Chung Ming, Ken Thompson Inc. and Rialto Concrete Products, in 2010 and 2011 to require cleanup and recover federal money spent at the site.

Prior to EPA’s lawsuit, the cities of Rialto and Colton initiated litigation against many of the settling parties, including the Department of Defense, in 2004.

“After decades of harmful groundwater contamination and following protracted and costly litigation, the parties responsible for releases of TCE and perchlorate at the BF Goodrich Superfund Site have agreed to a comprehensive long-term plan to clean up the contaminated groundwater at the site,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“The commitment made under the consent decrees announced today will provide immeasurable benefits to the environment and the communities who live in Rialto and Colton, California.”

The 160-acre Superfund site was part of a larger area acquired by the U.S. Army in 1942 to develop an inspection, consolidation, and storage facility for rail cars transporting ordnance to the Port of Los Angeles.

Since the United States sold the Rialto property in 1946, a portion of the property has been used by defense contractors, fireworks manufacturers, and other businesses that used perchlorate salts and/or solvents in their manufacturing processes or products.
In 1956 and 1957, West Coast Loading Corporation manufactured and tested two products, photoflash flares and “ground-burst simulators,” containing potassium perchlorate.

From about 1957 to 1962, B.F. Goodrich Corporation conducted research, development, testing, and production of solid-fuel rocket propellant containing ammonium perchlorate, and used solvents in the manufacturing process.

Since the 1960s, the 160-acre area has been used by a number of companies that manufactured or sold pyrotechnics, including Pyrotronics, Pyro Spectaculars, and American Promotional Events.

In November 2012, the California Department of Public Health completed a report on the public health implications of exposure to contamination from the B.F. Goodrich Site. The agency determined that:

  • People who currently work in businesses located on the B.F. Goodrich site are not at risk from exposure to chemicals in the soil, soil vapor, or groundwater.
  • The drinking water currently supplied by the West Valley Water District, the City of Rialto, the City of Colton, and the Terrace Water Company is safe to drink and does not put people at risk for health problems.
  • Drinking water supplied to some West Valley Water District customers between 1981 and 1988 may have contained TCE and/or perchlorate. It could not be determined if the levels were harmful to health.
  • Drinking water supplied to some of the City of Rialto’s customers from 1979 to 1997 may have had levels of perchlorate high enough to modestly impair iodine absorption by the thyroid gland. It could not be determined if the levels were high enough to affect thyroid hormones.

Both settlement agreements are subject to a public comment period and final court approval.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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