26 March 2009

Aerojet OBOD Open House Pop-In

Tonight between 5 and 9 p.m. was the public open house for the Aerojet OBOD (Open Burn, Open Detonation) site cleanup, recently declared safe by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), held at the McCoy Equestrian Center. I left work a little after 5 p.m. and had to pick up kids from day care before 6:30, so my time at the function was limited to about fifteen minutes, only enough to pick up handouts on the site and overhear some conversations between the handful (maybe a dozen) Chino Hills residents and representatives from Aerojet, DTSC and consultants.

What was gleaned from the discussions essentially amounted to company officials explaining the depth, scale and success of the cleanup and reassuring residents that there was no contamination of water sources or abnormal rates of cancer in the city. .

Among the documents I collected this evening was "Fact Sheet #1," issued by the DTSC, a subsidiary of the state Environmental Protection Agency, in August 1998. The value of obtaining these documents, as well as examining some displayed maps, was getting better factual information that clarifies what has been stated in this blog before. For example, the maps showed that the Vellano subdivision is not on Aerojet land, but abuts it to the west and north. whereas I had assumed otherwise.

On the first fact sheet, it is stated that the site occupied 800 acres, half of which was company-owned and the rest leased, with most of this latter used as a buffer from surrounding development and stocked with cattle. Moreover, there were distinct periods of varied operations. From 1954 to 1965, the site was a research and development site for small ordnance and explosives. When an Aerojet facility in Riverside was shuttered in 1965, the Chino Hills location grew to include the loading, assembling and packaging of munitions for a variety of federal programs. From 1974 until the plant closed in the fall of 1995, the assemling and testing of high explosive devices, armor-piercing projectiles containing depleted uranium, target practice devices and an array of fuses were included in the operations.

Cleanup operations included finding potentially contaminated areas; taking soil, groundwater and surface water samples; evaluating methods of cleanup; and implementing strategies for cleaning the site. A workplan was submitted by Aerojet to the DTSC in the spring of 1995 with initial sampling conducted that summer. After former company employees identified additional areas of concern, an amended workplan was submitted by the end of the year, followed by fieldwork into 1996. Water investigations commenced in the fall of 1997. Items of concern includes organic compounds, perchlorate, explosive materiel, and others and, by the summer of 1998, one location had been determined to have explosive chemicals in the soil and groundwater, though the latter "does not appear to be connected to local drinking water sources," as expressed in the sheet. Moreover, these chemicals and perchlorate were found in surface water during the winter (1996-97) and its heavy rains (the winter, incidentally, when my wife and I moved into our first house a couple miles to the east of the site, but were completely [blissfully?] unaware of the Aerojet facility). In this instance, the sheet stated, the presence of these materials meant that "no immediate risk is posed to public health or the environment."

An "Update Letter #2" issued in April 1999 added that "corrective measures have been proposed for ten areas of the site where ordnance, explosive-related chemicals, or tear gas canisters and ventilation filters have been found."

I did not see a "Fact Sheet #2" and the third in the series was not issued until August 2005. What appeared in this sheet that did not get mentioned in the 1998 and 1999 documents was the in 1993 Aerojet and the DTSC finalized a Consent Agreement for Corrective Action on the cleanup of the site. At this time, the plan to close and clean up the 14-acre OBPD was also established. In this third fact sheet, there was a division of project components into "Solid Waste Management Units" (SWMUs), the Open Burn/Open Detonation (OB/OD) Unit, Depleted Uranium, Health and Safety, and a Community Education Plan. For the Solid Waste Management Units, it was stated that more than 1,200 samples were gathered with the result that "there were no harmful levels of chemicals in surface waters, not were any detected outside of or migrating from facility boundaries that posed a risk to human health or the environment." Of 29 units inthis category, ten were subjected to cleanup concerning contaminated soil and ordnance fragments. This work was completed a report turned into the DTSC in fall 2003. Moreover, Aerojet submitted a year later an assessment of health risks regarding depleted uranium in the soil and it was noted that the report "demonstrated that levels of depleted uranium remaining site soils did not exceed concentrations allowed for unrestricted land use." On the OB/OD, it was explained that this unit existed for on-site destruction of ordnance items that did not meet military standards. State and federal permitting allowed either for the incineration or detonation of these materials. After the closure of the OB/OD in 1994, the process of investigating, screening and cleanup began, but was depenent on dry weather, meaning work was conducted only between April and October or November of each year. The screening of the OB/OD was scheduled to end in late 2005. On the health and safety aspect, three assessments were made by the California Cancer Registry, which found that there was no "excess in the cancer occurrence in Chino Hills" and that there were "slightly fewer childhood cases than the number predicted by the population size and demographic configuration."

This led, then, to "Fact Sheet #4," issued this month. On the OB/OD, the screening was behind schedule and was completed in 2006. A contractor then finished bedrock (meaning the material beneath the surface soil) sweeping, and a quality assurance survey by a third party was conducted. If ordnance was found by the latter, a re-excavation of the area and further sweeps were implemented, followed by a new quality assurance review. This process yielded the 260,000 cubic yeard of re-excavated soil and 47,000 items (collectively weighing 120,000 pounds) of inert fragments located. In the spring of 2007, Aerojet completed a final report on this project and the report was approved by the DTSC at the end of 2008. This led to to the open house and 30-day public comment period, after which (10 April being the deadline) the DTSC will issue a closure certification for the OB/OD. Incidentally, this newest fact sheet observes that, although there was originally 800 acres comprising the site, 400 of which was company-owned, Aerojet currently owns 580 acres. What this seems to say is that, even though the company closed the facility 15 years ago, it has actually acquired 180 additional acres, obviously from previous landowners who had leased property to the company. The purpose is clearly for investment with the company looking to sell the land for residential development and reap a substantial profit thereto. Another clarification concerned the cleanup of the ten areas in the SWMU classification, in that a program was approved in fall 2000 and the work certified by the DTSC last fall. A further addition was that more surveys of the depleted uranium issue were done in October 2007 and January 2008 by the Radiologic Health Branch of the California Department of Health Services and that "DPH's decision on termination of the radioactive materials license is pending."

As to "Next Steps & Future Plans." we learn that Aerojet "has just completed field activities designed to fill in data gaps outside the OB/OD Unit (but within the Aerojet study area) in order to locate and remove remaining ordnance items" and that "the results of these activities will be reported to DTSC in late spring or early summer 2009." Once this is done, a feasilbility studym for "potential future land uses and the cleanup efforts associated with a change in current land use, if any [my italics.]"

Someday, the DTSC will review all the reports on the project and conclude that cleanup is complete, giving Aerojet the green light to develop its land. This, inevitably, means housing developments. When this will be is still to be determined, but I imagine it will be somewhere around the 20th anniversary of the cleanup of this site.

As has been stated here previously, I can't really comment on the success of the project, for which we have to rely on the DTSC. My concern has been about the historical context of this facility.

Any history of Chino Hills, should one someday be compiled, would do well to devote significant portions of the story to the Aerojet facility in the context of the complicated and conflicted Cold War environment that almost brought about MADness, that is, "mutually assured destruction." One only need to peruse President (and General) Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell speech in 1961 citing the dangers of the "military-industrial complex" to see clearly how the microcosm of Aerojet's Chino Hills facility falls into the macrocosmic story of the Cold War.

The facility can be closed, the site cleaned up over two decades, and the land developed into beautiful tract homes and parks, but the history should be remembered and lessons from it learned and applied.

No comments: