Orange County Health Officials Monday rejected a clean up plan proposed by BP/ARCO for an old gasoline spill in Seal Beach that caused three homes to be evacuated last winter. County officials instead urged the oil company to dig out the contaminated dirt.

“The most significant impact of the contamination at this site has been the potential health risks and well-being of the community residents,” said the letter from the Orange County Health Agency to BP/ARCO. It asked BP/ARCO to submit a revised clean up plan by mid-June.

“We haven’t yet had time to fully review the county’s response,” BP spokesman Tom Mueller said in an email statement. “But our position is that the first priority has to be the health and safety of the residents and the final option, or options, selected must adhere to that principle.

“We believe there are several viable options for cleaning up this site,” Mueller added.

The source of the contamination is a 1986 leak from tanks under an ARCO gas station on Pacific Coast Highway. The gas station is next to homes and tests last fall determined chemical vapors from the spill were seeping up through the ground and into houses.

Three homes were temporarily evacuated until further tests showed vacuum systems were lowering the levels of benzene. Residents were allowed back into their homes in January.

A team of volunteer environmental consultants, all of whom live in Seal Beach, asked the county earlier this month to order BP/ARCO to dig out the polluted soil.

In its letter to BP/ARCO, county health officials noted that the oil company ruled out soil excavation as “infeasible” and preferred instead to vacuum the vapors from the soil along with other decontamination techniques.

Health officials said they received 51 written and 30 oral comments from members of the community on how the cleanup should be handled.

“The vast majority of the comments stated that excavation was the preferred alternative method of remediation on-site,” said the county letter, “and that the objective was to eliminate any actual or potential negative health impacts on the surrounding residents with certainty and as soon as possible.”

The letter added that county health officials determined that of four possible ways to rid the ground of contamination, the best idea was to dig up the soil.

The letter was signed by Richard Sanchez, director of environmental health and Anthony F. Martinez, senior engineering geologist for the county health agency’s environmental health hazardous materials mitigation section.


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