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Toxic water to be cleaned

Perchlorate-contaminated wells, closed in 1997, could provide safe water in a few months

Posted: December 11, 2009 9:31 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Two Saugus water wells were shut down more than a decade ago because they were contaminated with perchlorate, a toxic byproduct of rocket fuel production. But soon, they might be running again.

Within about four months, the Castaic Lake Water Agency expects to open a new, $20 million water treatment plant and pipeline system that will pump safe drinking water from those wells.

The plant is set to open in March, said Brian Folsom, engineering and operations manager for the water agency. The state Department of Public Health still has to certify the plant.

It represents a step in an arduous cleanup process that has gone on for years — and has several more to go.

Wells made toxic
From 1957 to 1987, the Bermite Powder Co. and Whittaker Corp. tested and produced rocket fuses, fireworks and ammunition on their nearly 1,000-acre site in Saugus. This led to the contamination of soil and groundwater on the site, according to city planning reports.

The chemical made its way into the Santa Clara River about a mile north of the former Whittaker-Bermite property, and from there it worked its way into the wells.

The Santa Clarita Valley relies on groundwater for about 50 percent of the water supplied to homes and businesses.

In 1997, officials closed the wells after finding perchlorate produced on the 996-acre Saugus site had made the water unsafe to drink, Folsom said. The wells were shut down to contain the spread of the toxin; if consumed, perchlorate can cause problems in the thyroid gland, he said.

The water agency had initially expected to open the treatment plant last year, but construction took longer than expected. The facility will remove perchlorate with a series of filters, making water from the wells safe to drink once again, Folsom said.

Cleanup has years to go

The wells are located near the intersection of Magic Mountain Parkway and Railroad Avenue. When opened, they will be able to pump more than 2,000 gallons of water per minute, Folsom said.

About two miles of pipe will take water from the wells to the treatment center located near the Lowe’s hardware store on Bouquet Canyon Road.

After the water is made safe to drink, it will be pumped back into Santa Clarita’s regular water supply, he said.

The Whittaker Corp., through its insurers, has paid for the entire facility, Folsom said. The corporation is also paying to clean up its former site.

The process of cleaning contaminated soil and water on the site is progressing but will take several more years before it is completed, said Jose Diaz of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is overseeing the cleanup of contaminated soil on the site.

The cleanup process has already taken several years. About 25 percent of the site is cleaned, said John Naginis, senior geologist with the department.

A plan for cleaning up the rest of the soil on the site will be finished and made public some time in January, department spokeswoman Jeanne Garcia said.

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