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Bermite cleanup prompts survey

Posted: September 28, 2009 10:22 p.m.
Updated: September 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
State officials want to learn just how much local residents know about the contaminated land in the middle of their city.

Early last week, the Department of Toxic Substances Control sent 7,800 surveys to homes within a 1-mile radius of the 996-acre former Whittaker-Bermite property in Saugus. The surveys are due Oct. 5.

"(We) need to find out what the community surrounding the site knows about it," spokeswoman Jeanne Garcia said. "A lot of times people don't know what's going on around them."

While the treatment of polluted water on the property will take decades, the soil cleanup could be done in about six years, project manager Jose Diaz said.

The DTSC is in charge of cleaning up the soil on the site, which was left polluted after decades of munitions manufacturing and testing. Water cleanup is being handled by the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

Both the soil and groundwater were contaminated with perchlorate, a rocket fuel byproduct linked to thyroid problems.

One hundred letters were sent out Sept. 18, Garcia said. She learned after a flood of calls the following Monday that the surveys had been left out.

She said DTSC officials decided to widen the survey perimeter and mailed out 7,800 surveys on Sept. 21.

The seven-question survey asks residents if they were aware of the contamination and ongoing work at the site, their concerns and whether they are interested in a community action group.

"Maybe the surveys will precipitate more interest," Garcia said.

Bordered by San Fernando Road to the west, Soledad Canyon Road to the north and Golden Valley Road to the east, the hilly Whittaker-Bermite property is the city's proverbial doughnut hole - the last prime real estate in Santa Clarita.

Cleanup is nearly finished at the 220-acre east end of the property, Diaz said, and added only about 6 acres were involved in the cleanup.

Overall, he said, about 100 acres out of the entire 996-acre property are contaminated.

The cleanup methods used on the first "operable unit" of the Whitaker-Bermite property were a test for the rest of the site, he said.

A action plan is under development for the remaining five areas and will go out for public review in the coming months.

Cleaning up the soil that has been contaminated involves mixing it with a combination of nutrients and naturally occurring bacteria and sealing it in large, airtight bags. The bacteria needs oxygen to flourish, and because of the airtight containers it resorts to using the oxygen in the perchlorate - in turn, decontaminating the soil and destroying the perchlorate in about 45 to 60 days.

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