Environment & Science

$55 million pledged in deal to clean up Del Amo Superfund site

EPA crews have been cleaning up groundwater, soil, and soil vapor pollution at two sites in Torrance, including Del Amo, which used to be a synthetic rubber company. Superfund allows the government to go after property owners to seek payment for contamination on their lands.
EPA crews have been cleaning up groundwater, soil, and soil vapor pollution at two sites in Torrance, including Del Amo, which used to be a synthetic rubber company. Superfund allows the government to go after property owners to seek payment for contamination on their lands.
EPA

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday it has reached a $55 million settlement for cleanup of the Del Amo Superfund site in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The agreement — filed Tuesday by the EPA, Shell Oil Company and the U.S. General Services Administration — is meant to prevent exposure to industrial contamination that has lingered at the site for decades. 

"These funds are key to advancing our cleanup actions at this site," Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in a written statement. "EPA looks forward to working with local residents as we clean up and revitalize their neighborhood, which has been burdened for decades by this former industrial plant."

The Del Amo facility manufactured synthetic rubber from the 1940s until 1972, when it ceased operations and was dismantled. The plant had stored benzene, propane, butylene and butane in unlined pits and ponds, which led to contaminated soil and groundwater. The site was added to the EPA's National Priorities List in 2002

Investigative and cleanup work has been done on the site, including soil-vapor extraction and the construction of a groundwater extraction and treatment system. Last spring, the EPA tested 107 homes for vapor intrusion as part of an investigation into the Del Amo and Montrose Superfund sites.

The settlement will undergo a 30-day public comment period. If it receives final approval, the funds will go towards cleanup and oversight costs by the EPA and the State of California.

Cleanup work is expected to take three to five years and would include injecting chemicals into the ground to accelerate the breakdown of deep soil contamination, as well as vacuuming harmful vapors. Protections designed to limit exposure would be taken for anyone doing work on the site in the future.

Additional work will include capping shallow soil contamination with concrete and asphalt and adding improved ventilation in one building on the site. 

An official with the EPA said the work would put the site’s soil on track for removal from the Superfund Site list.

“It’s the critical next stage of Superfund action, actually getting cleanup implemented and implementing cleanup action so that the public is protected within the old footprint of the 280-acre property,” said John Lyons, acting director of the Region Nine Superfund Division. “Usually you get to the implementation of the remedy, and you get into the operations and maintenance phase — the ongoing work — and that’s when the site is generally ready to be removed from the list.”

That timetable does not apply to groundwater contamination, which is being addressed by investigations into the neighboring Montrose Superfund Site.

“This settlement will help keep additional contamination from getting to groundwater, but the groundwater action is a bigger and frankly more long-term program,” Lyons said. “The cleanup horizon for groundwater is well over 50 years.”

An environmental activist in the area said she saw the settlement as a positive step towards cleanup. However, she expressed concern that the community was not included more in the discussions.

“I do see a positive that they’re moving forward. I just wish that, as closely as our organization works with the state and federal agencies and other stakeholders, that they would keep us more in the loop,” said Cynthia Babich, director of the Del Amo Action Committee. “It’s been a longstanding argument that affected communities should have some kind of a say and an overview before these consent decrees are signed.”

Babich said she was concerned the $55 million may not be sufficient to cover the actual costs of cleanup.

“They’re underestimating these cleanups. We really don’t know the full extent of what’s going on there at the site, and we also want to make sure that people are using appropriate technologies,” she said. “We’re very concerned about that.”

This story has been updated.

Settlement Consent Decree