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Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
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stories along The Way

Thursday, July 21, 2011

[HexWatch 2011] Old Yardstick/New Tricks

Dateline: November 10, 2010 -- LADWP, after halting the excavation and siting of its 100-million gallon water tanks for an extended length of time in an area known as The Headworks, receives a re-assessment report of the project's exposure risks for Chromium VI...
The language is uhm, not-so-clear. But the idea is fairly obvious;
If you build restroom facilities in the new Headworks Park (yes, when in doubt, plant some trees and put a park on top of it....), make sure you particularly avoid two Cr VI hotspots, because if any repairs are needed on the underground plumbing of those new restrooms, maintenance workers will be exposed to dangerous levels of Chromium VI.
"Wow," you say, "but doesn't Chromium VI always degrade to the safer Chromium III over time? Eventually it will be safe, right?"
(Shakes head, wags finger) In this case, maybe not...
But that's another story to be told. It takes place over a 60-year period and it's called "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Spreading Grounds." It is the cause of much consternation between The Walt Disney Company, a whole bunch of lawyers, US EPA, CAL EPA, a regional water board, a trio of municipal utilities and, quite possibly, a singing Chihuahua looking for love in all the wrong places.
But I digress.
Today's story is called "Old Yardstick/New Tricks." It's an epic suspense/adventure about how a municipal utility found the courage to leap forward with a water project in a chemically hazardous area before new, stiffer health and environmental regulations become the law of the land and sabotage the entire thing.
Here's how it goes:
Somewhere Around February 2010
A report is commissioned by LADWP upon discovery that they have eyebrow-raising soil contamination numbers for deadly Chromium VI at their Headworks property where they have just begun excavation to install 100-million gallon tanks for drinking water storage. Work is halted. No official or public mention of Cr VI contamination is made.
November 2010
The report comes back to LADWP. Using the broadest currently accepted state screening levels and pre-2010 USEPA levels for Cr VI, it's called "Risk Assessment of the Potential Future Use of the Headworks Spreading Ground as a Park Following Installation of New Water Storage Tanks" and, like that title says, it assesses future use of Headworks as a park for humans to recreate, fully cognizant of the fact that very high levels of Cr VI are presently in soil samples in two specific areas and that seven of 18 water wells in the area were contaminated with Cr VI. The report also suggests that, if children use the "future" park, they should only visit once per week when school is not in session and one 2.7 hour visit once every other week when school IS in session to avoid higher than normal cancer risks. Piece o' cake. Kids are always good with rules. Especially when they're not posted anywhere.
December 2010
Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes out with a report on Cr VI levels in U.S. drinking water that receives a surprising amount of national attention. In the survey, a sample taken from a water fountain in an area adjacent to Griffith Park comes out rather high (MCL = Maximum Contamination Level). Courtesy of the EWG, all hell then breaks loose. Feinstein and Boxer jump in, calling for USEPA to get a handle on the MCL (and PHG -- Public Health Goal) for Cr VI immediately. Lisa Jackson, head of USEPA promises swift action.
Sometime In January/February 2011
Timing sucks and things get a little weird for that November Hexworks, uh, Headworks report. Spurred on by irate U.S. Senators and angry thirsty people everywhere, State of California through OEHAA and USEPA are now both taking public comment and advancing toward new improved numbers and regulations with much lower MCLs/PHGs thresholds for Cr VI. The clock is ticking and State of California's higher, older threshold numbers could be out of date sooner than later. LADWP, like it always does with new regs, new renewables mandates (Is it 20%, 33%, 40%, I dunno -- what day is it??) is gonna get screwed. Not only that, but a whole bunch of nasty skeletons are just knockin' on the closet door, ready to fly out, because LADWP has had oversight of The Headworks since 1938 and from then til now, only one company has had permission to recycle its water through Headworks soil: The Walt Disney Company.
And from then til now, LADWP provided little, if any, oversight for six decades.
So, you can imagine the crunchiness of the situation....
And Disney is pissed because USEPA is now forcing them to cooperate with their investigation and just tightened the screws with this letter and a demand that they respond in full within 30 days.
Meanwhile, a Cr VI-related civil lawsuit alleging wrongful death continues its stroll through the court system and even Disney's world-class legal team cannot seem to stop it.
The clock is ticking not only for Disney, but for LADWP.
And LADWP has a decision to make.
"Do we re-start the Headworks project or do we wait for new, lower Cr VI screening levels to be adopted by regulatory agencies which will cost our project even more?" Hmm.
"Do we tell everyone in the world that we took a 60-year nap while Disney dumped tons of Cr VI contaminated water into the Headworks Spreading Ground?" No.
"Do we ignore the mandate from Homeland Security to protect our water from terrorists by installing underground tanks?" We shouldn't. Let's call Eyewitness News.
"Do we have a current assessment of the property for future use that puts us in the clear?" Yes, we do.
"Even though future use wasn't considered with future regulations currently being considered?" Please, let's live in the present.
LADWP's decision?
"Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!"

It is less than half the Cr VI contamination level found by EWG in that Griffith Park drinking fountain a year ago.