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, July 1, 2010 | The indications from BP/ARCO’s latest proposed cleanup plan of contaminated soil under a Seal Beach gas station are that the station will be torn down, which makes city officials increasingly hopeful they’ve found a solution to the 25-year-old pollution problem.

“We’re not quite ready to declare victory,” said Seal Beach City Manager David Carmany, “but we’re feeling pretty good about it at this point.”

City staff met Wednesday night with about 60 residents of the nearby neighborhood, where earlier this year people had to temporarily evacuate three homes because of the leak. They filled the Seal Beach library to discuss the technical report that BP/ARCO submitted June 19 as its latest plan for curing the air and water contamination.

The BP/ARCO proposal offers alternative cleanup suggestions, all employing “electric resistance heating” technology, which uses electricity to heat contaminated dirt and groundwater, causing the pollutants to evaporate.

Additional plans include digging up contaminated soil and hauling it to safe disposal sites and then treating the remaining contamination with the electric heating system.

A critical issue, according to government officials and residents, is how much soil will be excavated.

“That’s the $64,000 question at this point,” said Carmany.

Too little excavation may only result in more contamination problems popping up down the road.

Carmany said it appears that BP/ARCO will have to tear down the gas station to dig out the soil.

The company is offering three excavation plans, and none call for excavating beyond the boundaries of the gas station property.

But Mario Iacoboni, a member of a volunteer environmental panel advising residents and city officials on the cleanup, said it’s important to determine the true boundaries of the contamination, even if it has spread outside the gas station grounds, so that the cleanup truly is effective.

“In other words,” he said, “their (BP/ARCO) plans do not call for chasing the contamination” to find out where it ends.

In addition, he said, another question to be answered is whether the electric heating is really an effective cleanup tool for this project.

Iacoboni said the electric heating is a “relatively new” cleanup technology, and he and others are concerned that it hasn’t been used on enough gasoline leaks in other areas to prove that it will offer a permanent solution to the Seal Beach problem.

Residents have been picketing the ARCO station for several months to call attention to the 25-year effort to remove contamination from the neighborhood. They plan to picket again Saturday morning but, because they are feeling more encouraged by the BP/ARCO cleanup proposal, the message to cars passing the picket lines may be “semi-positive,” said Iacoboni.

The City Council will discuss the latest plan at its July 12 meeting.

Three homes were temporarily evacuated when local officials last year discovered fumes from the polluted soil were making their way into houses behind the gas station.

A variety of mitigation efforts to contain the pollutants and protect residents and underground water have been tried over the past three decades.

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