County’s 1990s Expansion Of Landfill Now Costing Millions

San Bernardino County officials’ cavalier action in expanding the Mid-Valley Landfill in the 1990s is continuing to cost county taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars.
Despite those expenditures, the root of the problem – perchlorate contamination of the aquifer in the county’s Central Valley – has not been eradicated and there is little prospect that it will be before another quarter century elapses, during which time span millions and millions more dollars will be expended on the effort to check the spread of the underground pollution.
At its May 22 meeting, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved shelling out another $4,389,649 on top of the $3,688,608 it has already paid Geo-Logic Associates growing out of the mishandling of the Mid-Valley Landfill expansion. The nearly $4.4 million increase was the third amendment to the contract the county has with Geo-Logic to provide sampling, analysis and reporting, and to provide additional maintenance and operations support of the county’s perchlorate and volatile organic compound groundwater treatment system at the City of Rialto’s Well No. 3 and other associated monitoring wells, as well as to monitor the expansion of a groundwater treatment system. The amendment boosted the amount of the county’s contract with Geo-Logic for specific work related to the perchlorate contamination to $8,078,257, and it extended the contract term by an additional five years from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2023.
The manner in which perchlorate has seeped into the region’s water table and is continuing to spread is a tale of abject shortsightedness and irresponsibility.
In north Rialto, Pyro Spectaculars, Ken Thompson Inc., Chung Ming Wong, BF Goodrich and Emhart Industries had operations that were ongoing in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. All of those operations utilized perchlorate in their manufacturing processes. Near those operations, Broco Inc. maintained a hazardous-waste disposal operation which was active from the mid-1960s until the late 1980s.
The county purchased the Broco property, which was proximate to the Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill, in 1994, intending to use it in the expansion of the Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill. According to attorney Barry Groveman, who represents the West Valley Water District, it appears the county simply knocked the hazardous waste facility down and spread the debris around before burying it. Groveman said the county was in violation of state hazardous waste handling regulations and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Burying hazardous waste and storing it without a permit is illegal.
In the late 1990s, a plume of contaminants containing perchlorate was found to be migrating through the local water table. Perchlorate is a product used in the manufacture of both fireworks and ordnance. In very minute quantities perchlorate can wreak havoc on the thyroid gland.
It has been established that the five aforementioned corporate entities – Pyro Spectaculars, Ken Thompson Inc., Chung Ming Wong, BF Goodrich, and Emhart Industries – were the sources of the perchlorate disposed at the Broco facility.
Water agency officials, state officials and federal officials have asserted the County of San Bernardino engaged in activity that exacerbated the perchlorate problem.
Officials with the Rialto-based West Valley Water District and their lawyers have alleged that San Bernardino County razed and buried structures at the Broco facility to make way for the landfill expansion, action those officials maintain was not only illegal but worsened the contamination of the groundwater beneath Rialto.
The Environmental Protection Agency has designated the north Rialto area as one of its Superfund sites so that the parties responsible for the contamination can be forced to assist in the remediation effort and the so-called federal Superfund can be applied toward that end.
In 2004, Rialto filed an action in the U.S. District Court, known as City of Rialto v. United States Department of Defense et al. relating to the perchlorate contamination, alleging defense contractors were in part responsible for the situation. In early 2005, Colton filed a similar action in U.S. District Court, known as City of Colton v. American Promotional Events, Inc. West, et al. Rialto and Colton brought their respective actions against a number of defendants, including the county and Emhart, seeking response costs and injunctive relief to, among other things, ensure that perchlorate and another contaminant, trichloroethylene, a heavy duty industrial solvent known by its acronym TCE, in the basin would be cleaned up. In June 2010, the District Court consolidated the United States action with actions which had been refiled by Rialto and Colton. Rialto dropped the portion its lawsuit against BF Goodrich after the company agreed to undertake a remediation effort. BF Goodrich did pay a total of $4 million – $1 million each to the cities of Fontana, Rialto and Colton as well as to the West Valley Water District. That money was used to treat specific wells that were producing perchlorate-laden water but did not redress the underlying problems in the aquifer. An EPA-designed program of remediation, consisting of contaminated water being pumped out of the ground to then be treated and distributed to water districts, is underway. It will likely take two decades or more for the perchlorate levels to be reduced to acceptable limits.
In May 2009, then-County Counsel Ruth Stringer, the county’s top in-house lawyer, convinced the county board of supervisors to retain the law firm of Gallagher & Gallagher at an original cost of $710,000. The legal services Gallagher & Gallagher was to provide pertained to allegations against the county relating to perchlorate contamination in connection with particular matters that fall outside of the defense work covered by the county’s insurance. Gallagher & Gallagher currently represents the county in connection with the federal and state court litigation and federal and state agencies’ investigations of the perchlorate groundwater contamination in the Rialto-Colton Basin. Records show that as of 2017 the county had paid Gallagher & Gallagher a total of $3,105,000 and that another law firm, Price Postel & Parma had been paid $4 million through 2016 by the county for its work with regard to perchlorate contamination litigation.
Three-and-a-half years ago, the county entered into a four-party implementation agreement with Emhart Industries, Inc., the city of Rialto and the Rialto Utility Authority, collectively, and the city of Colton.
That agreement calls for the construction of a combined water capture and treatment system to be operated by the city of Rialto and its utility authority that will reduce the perchlorate in the water table to the state standard of 0.004 milligrams per liter or less. The system is to consist of two groundwater extraction wells; a combined treatment plant; conveyance piping connecting the extraction wells to the combined treatment plant; distribution piping and any necessary valves connecting the combined treatment plant to Rialto’s municipal water supply system; distribution piping and infrastructure necessary for the delivery of water to Colton’s municipal water supply system as well as, if needed and reasonably necessary, distribution piping and infrastructure necessary for the delivery of water to a water purveyor other than Colton, which would most likely be the West Valley Water District; up to seven monitoring wells; and at least two and perhaps more piezometers required by the California State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water for the extraction well and the city of Rialto water well closest to the contamination site.
According to former County Counsel Jean Rene Basle, in addition to the procedural action by the Environmental Protection Agency and the legal action lodged by the local cities, those city’s water and utility divisions and local water agencies and districts, the county is also fending off legal action brought against it by ICSOP, the Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of the American International Group (AIG), which had indemnified certain parties that were damaged by the perchlorate contamination in the Central Valley.
Multiple legal issues relating to the perchlorate contamination are not yet resolved.
Mark Gutglueck

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