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Caution urged with park site

Contaminated property will require special signage, critic says

Posted: May 17, 2009 9:48 p.m.
Updated: May 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
A city plan to buy a piece of contaminated land near Placerita Canyon is drawing criticism. It's also drawing comparisons to another infamous toxic-waste site.

The city of Santa Clarita plans to spend $2.5 million to buy the 140-acre Special Devices site near Placerita Canyon, said Rick Gould, city of Santa Clarita park director. The site was the home to Special Devices Inc. The company manufactured explosives for the air bags used in automotive safety systems, and explosive release charges for the doors on the Mercury space capsules, Gould said.

When Special Devices abandoned the site in 1999, the company left behind a site with contaminated soil, said Ken Paine, project manager for the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.

"There were low-level volatile organic compounds in the soil," he said. Those substances include the toxic chemical potassium perchlorate, he said.

According to the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act study published in December, the contamination in the soil was enough to prohibit home-building, but not enough to stop the city from turning the site into open space.

"It is a very low-level of contamination in the soil and if you're walking through and didn't get it into your system, it won't cause health problems," said Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

Those low levels, however, don't mean that problems do not exist at the site, Plambeck said.

Plambeck's concerns have to do with what she considers a more general problem with mishandling of toxic waste sites in the SCV.

"This is how Whittaker-Bermite started, with people saying it's not that polluted," she said. "I don't want to say that the site is as troubled as Whittaker-Bermite, but it has pollution problems."

Whittaker-Bermite manufactured and tested munitions for decades on the Saugus property. The site is contaminated with ammonium perchlorate, which is a rocket fuel by-product linked to human thyroid problems.

"There was never any ammonium perchlorate found in the soul samples from the Special Devices site," Paine said. Potassium perchlorate was used at the site, but the concentrations in the soil aren't high enough to pose health risks, he said.

The perchlorate concentration isn't high enough to pose health risk, but the existence of other volatile solvents in the soil makes home construction out of the question on the site, Paine said.

Plambeck disagrees with Paine and the levels of the perchlorate he claims are at the site.

"The levels are as high at the Special Devices as Whittaker-Bermite," she said.

Besides perchlorate contamination, Plambeck is concerned with contamination from volatile organic compounds.

Gasses from the volatile soil compounds are released into the soil and into the air at the Special Devices site. The compounds are not in the concentrations where the gas poses a threat to health, Paine said. But if a home was built on top of the ground, the gas would not be released and the concentration would build, he added.

"If the soil is dug up, the gas from the volatile organic compounds can pose a health risk," Plambeck said. If the Special Devices site is turned into an open space, Plambeck's advice is to make sure there are no off-road vehicles used at the site.

There are no plans to use off-road vehicles at the open space site, Gould said.

Plambeck recommends posting signs and occasional patrols by the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.

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