Pollutants on the Move in Seal Beach

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Volunteer environmental consultants are asking Orange County health officials to tighten clean-up rules for an old gasoline spill that forced the evacuation of three Seal Beach homes last winter.

“The most reliable, effective and expeditious” plan, the volunteers wrote to the County Health Care Agency, is to dig out the contaminated soil and then treat the remaining area.

The five volunteers are all Seal Beach homeowners who live in the neighborhood near the gas station and all said they have spent their careers working for environmental consulting companies, the environmental departments of cities or the environmental arms of construction or oil firms and have field experience dealing with contamination issues.

“We all have hands-on experience with sites impacted with leaking underground storage tanks” similar to the case in Seal Beach, they said in a letter to county health officials.

The county is expected to decide within a few weeks how the clean-up will be conducted. If the gas station owner, BP/ARCO, disagrees with the plan, it can appeal.

In December, the county asked BP/ARCO to relocate residents of four nearby houses after tests determined chemical vapors from the spill were seeping from the ground up and into the homes, possibly endangering the health of residents. Residents of one of the houses moved out on their own before the county asked ARCO to act, those living in two homes were relocated and residents of the fourth decided to stay.

The residents were allowed to return to their homes in January when further tests showed vacuum systems were successfully reducing the levels of benzene fumes in two of the homes, said Larry Honeybourne, program manager for the county Health Department’s Local Oversight Program. Levels in the other two were low enough on their own to allow residents to move back in.

Source of the fumes is a 1986 gasoline leak from underground tanks. The contamination was largely dormant for years but in 2009, test wells indicated pollutants were on the move.



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