The cleanup of toxic pollution at the former Arco gas station on Pacific Coast Highway is behind schedule, county officials announced this week.
After battling the contamination for years, neighboring residents see the ongoing cleanup project as a sign that the company is committed to taking responsibility for the pollution despite the work delays, they said at a community meeting this week.
Multiple gas tank leaks spanning decades spilled gasoline into the soil, and tests found that the spill was 'off-gassing’ benzene, a known carcinogen linked to leukemia, into people’s homes. Three homes were evacuated and treated last year to stem the flow of hazardous gases into the homes. Arco recently purchased the house closest to the former gas station. The residents were able to return home, but underground vapor extraction systems have been necessary to keep the air inside the homes safe for residents.
At a meeting at Seal Beach City Hall this week county officials met with residents to update them on Arco’s ongoing cleanup effort. According to Orange County Health Care Agency, the cleanup is well underway although behind schedule. Vapor extraction wells designed to protect neighboring homes in Bridgeport are working, although recent tests show that, “some results are higher than we would want,” said Anthony Martinez, senior engineering geologist for the Health Care Agency.
However, Martinez could not say how elevated the levels of contamination are.
After tearing down the gas station in May, the company has been removing storage tanks and piping, and crews could start work to lower the groundwater by next week, said Martinez. That work could take six to eight weeks before the excavation of contaminated soil can begin, he added.
The project delays stem from equipment supply issues and work stoppages due to safety issues. As part of the cleanup effort, workers will extract groundwater, filter it through carbon to clean it, and then dispose of it via the sewage system. Once the groundwater level has been lowered, workers will begin extracting contaminated soil and shipping it to a disposal site in Adelanto.
Martinez assured residents that despite the delays, Arco would be required to begin excavating the soil this year.
“Arco presented the rainy season as something they wanted to avoid,” Martinez said. “They don’t get another six months to wait until after the next rainy season to excavate.”
“This is actually costing them money to have these delays,” added Richard Sanchez, the county’s director of Environmental Health.
“I think they are doing everything they said they are going to do,” said Ray Zeoli, who lives near the former Arco station at PCH and 5th Street. “I feel pretty good about it.”
It’s been a long journey for the Arco neighbors, who have been living with the contamination for years and waiting for several frustrating months for the cleanup to begin while worrying about potential health effects from the pollution.
As the soil and groundwater removal begins, county officials assured residents that they would receive biweekly reports on the cleanup to keep them updated. Another community meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Aug 24th at Seal Beach City Hall, 211 8th St.