The U.S. Environmental Protection is ordering a $60 million clean-up of rocket fuel-polluted groundwater at the Aerojet Superfund Site in Sacramento County, Calif., the latest phase of a long-term decontamination project at the site. The extent of toxic pollution at the site makes it one of the largest and most comprehensive Superfund groundwater clean-ups in California.
A 27-square mile swath of groundwater underneath and around the former aerospace facility is polluted with several compounds, including very high levels of perchlorate -- a main component of rocket fuel -- and a known developmental toxin. Aerojet, under the direction of the EPA, will contain the underground plume to prevent it from spreading into nearby rivers and streams. Future plans will also treat groundwater within the site’s boundaries.
"This cleanup tackles the worst areas first to prevent toxic chemicals from fouling any additional water sources," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "Not only is EPA holding Aerojet accountable for its pollution, but we want to assure local residents that they will have safe drinking water for years to come as the company works to restore the underground aquifer."
The EPA approved the first groundwater cleanup for a small, highly populated section of the Aerojet site in 2001. In the enforcement orders announced, Aerojet must fund and construct a water treatment facility that will limit water contamination within set boundaries and purify some 25 million gallons of groundwater daily in order to prevent the loss of additional drinking water supplies.
The widespread contamination at the site will require at least five additional cleanup plans for groundwater and soil over the coming decade. EPA will continue to oversee the company’s efforts and actively monitor a large number of wells at the site to assess the efficacy of the groundwater containment system. The agency is also working with state and local environmental regulatory partners, including the state water board and department of toxic substances control.
The Aerojet General Corporation site covers 8,500 acres near Rancho Cordova, 15 miles east of Sacramento, and is about half a mile from the American River. Since 1953, Aerojet and its subsidiaries have manufactured liquid and solid propellant rocket engines for military and commercial applications and have formulated a number of chemicals, including rocket propellant agents, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and other industrial chemicals. In addition, the Cordova Chemical Company operated chemical manufacturing facilities on the Aerojet complex from 1974 to 1979.
Both companies disposed of unknown quantities of hazardous waste chemicals, including TCE and other chemicals associated with rocket propellants, as well as various chemical processing wastes. Some wastes were disposed of in surface impoundments, landfills, deep injection wells, leachate fields, and some were disposed by open burning.
Involvement and public input from the local community has been an important part of the cleanup. The Community Advisory Group for Aerojet Superfund issues meets bimonthly to exchange information with regulatory agencies and Aerojet on the current status of and community concerns regarding the investigation and cleanup of area groundwater contamination. To get further information on this group, contact Janis Heple, chairperson, at (530) 757-8602.
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