Water remediation efforts continue in Escondido County

October 2, 2014

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control met with the public recently to discuss water remediation progress and address public concerns about the toxic plume that has existed in the groundwater in Escondido, California for decades. The toxic plume, which officials claim does not pose a significant health risk, spreads beneath western Escondido for about a mile, reaching Felicita Creek, U-T San Diego reports. 

The pollution has been found to stem from the Chatham Brothers Barrel Yard, which is currently undergoing remediation. The Chatham Brothers property was designated a State Superfund site in the early 1980s, and is contaminated with toxic chlorinated hydrocarbon pollution.

The site was once used by the Chatham brothers as a waste oil and solvent recycling and bulk petroleum facility. So far, the years of clean up efforts have cost over $40 million, although recent studies show these efforts have not stopped significant levels of pollution reaching the groundwater. 

Officials have warned that this could spread to other areas, including private wells and nearby bodies of water, most notably Lake Hodges, a source of drinking water for the county.

"Low levels of chemical contamination have been found in Felicita Creek at Felicita Park," state officials wrote in a fact sheet shared with meeting attendees. "This water contamination has been found to be significantly below levels that might be expected to have any impact on people, including children who might come into contact with creek water."

Officials assured that the public that the original source of pollution has been completely removed. Still, analysis of test wells has found chlorinated hydrocarbon pollution exceeding safe levels, although the state officials assured the public levels were not so high as to warrant alarm. 

Remediation efforts have included the removal of 11,000 tons of contaminated soil and debris from the Chatham Brothers site in 1990. Shortly thereafter, a groundwater treatment facility was constructed at the site, according to U-T San Diego. 

The state originally shut down the site's operations in 1981, after finding trichloroethylene, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxic substances leaking from storage drums. After a significant legal proceeding, the Chatham Brothers and 56 other companies and governmental agencies were found to have a role in the pollution, for delivering faulty storage drums to the site.

These organizations are now responsible for the cost of clean up, and favor letting the toxic plume dissipate over time, although many community stakeholders in the community disagree that this is the best path forward. Monitoring wells have found that the plume has moved south roughly 1,000 feet in the past six years.

Experts retained by the state explain that as the plume spreads out the pollution will lessen, and it is highly unlikely that the pollution will reach Lake Hodges. Environmental consultants can help to identify means of advancing remediation efforts in the most cost-effective manner.