The BP/Arco station in Seal Beach, where leaky underground storage takes have caused the ground to be contaminated. Residents have been trying to get the site cleaned up for decades. (Photo by: Tracy Wood)

Thursday, June 24, 2010 | For the first time in the 25-year effort to clean up contaminated soil beneath a Seal Beach gas station, BP/ARCO executives this week offered to excavate polluted dirt, raising hopes a solution may finally be within reach.

“We’re optimistic,” said Mario Iacoboni, a member of a volunteer environmental panel advising residents and city officials on the cleanup. But, he cautioned, “the devil is in the details.”

Iacoboni said the volunteer committee, neighbors of the gas station, city leaders and county health officials need to closely scrutinize the thick BP/ARCO technical proposal before reaching any agreements.

This proposed cleanup plan, submitted to the county late last week, actually says a different system, not excavation, is the preferred method for putting an end to the pollution.

But in a cover letter addressed to the county Health Care Agency, ARCO Regional Environmental Manager Henry Winsor used the word “excavation,” the first time in the three-decade effort to end the contamination issue that an official document suggested that option.

The letter said the best solution would be to apply “electric resistance heating” technology to the contaminated soil. That approach in effect uses electricity to heat the contaminated dirt and groundwater, causing the pollutants to evaporate.

“However”, the letter continued, “Atlantic Richfield is prepared to implement either” the electric heating approach or an excavation system that is coupled with the electric heating to rid the water and air of contaminants.

“If the agencies, at the end of the day, want us to do a combination of both … we are willing to do a combination of both, yes,” said Matt Rezvani, general manager for external affairs on the West Coast for BP/ARCO. “We have proposed that.”

“We have to hear from the agencies and see what the agencies want to do,” he added. “They will decide the level of excavation and the extent of excavation if they decide they want them both (excavation and electric heat.)”

Area residents, Seal Beach officials and the volunteer environmental cleanup committee have 30 days to weigh alternatives and make their own recommendations to the county, which will issue a final cleanup proposal.

Digging up polluted dirt under the gas station at the corner of Fifth Street and Pacific Coast Highway and hauling the soil to an approved dumping site has been the goal of neighborhood residents and the city. They have argued that it is the only sure way to bring an end to three decades of problems associated with the underground leak.

“I can tell you that the community is only focused on excavation,” Seal Beach City Engineer Michael Ho said.

But ARCO, which owned the station when the leak occurred in 1986, and then BP, which bought ARCO in 2000, tried a number of other methods to mitigate water pollution and harmful fumes. Excavation was rejected as too costly.

Last year local officials discovered fumes from the polluted soil were making their way into houses behind the gas station. Three homes were temporarily evacuated, and BP/ARCO installed a vapor pump to pull fumes from the soil before they could get inside nearby houses.

“It’s so early in the process,” said Iacoboni, who lives near the gas station in addition to serving on the volunteer advisory committee. He said the volunteer experts may want to meet with ARCO to discuss details of the proposed cleanup plans.

“The fact that they had an alternative with excavation as an option is promising,” he added. “It’s all about how they’re going to excavate and what the limits of the excavation are going to be.”

But, he added, “it’s a step in the right direction.”

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at, and follow her on Twitter: And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.