President’s Message—EPA and DTSC Take Important Steps Toward North Basin Cleanup

The Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) has been working to remediate the North Basin Groundwater Contamination Plume (North Basin; site), located among the cities of Fullerton, Anaheim and Placentia, since the early 1990s. OCWD is well aware of the hazard it presents to our water supply and the need for corrective actions to protect our critical water resource. 

Recently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have taken important steps toward its cleanup.

NPL listing at the North Basin

EPA has determined that the site meets its hazard ranking eligibility for placement on the National Priorities List (NPL).

One important step along the EPA oversight path is the required submittal of a letter asking Governor Brown to support NPL listing of  North Basin. That letter was sent May 16.  The governor's concurrence does not mean that the site will ultimately be listed, but rather allows for the listing process to continue through the prescribed steps of technical analysis, public review and comment. The NPL listing process is open and transparent with opportunity for public input. It does not preclude an alternative voluntary approach to remediation.  To the contrary, the lengthy NPL listing process allows time and creates an incentive for voluntary Potentially Responsible Party (PRP) agreements before finalization of the listing process and subsequent superfund enforcement.

DTSC Signs North Basin agreement which includes a $2 million settlement

One of the seriously contaminated sites in North Basin is the manufacturing site of the former Chicago Musical Instruments Company (CMI).  Some might remember high school trumpets and other musical instruments with their “Chicago” name engraved on the bell.  Historical operations at the former CMI site resulted in contamination of the soil and groundwater by volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The investigation found elevated levels of trichloroethene (TCE), tetrachloroethene (PCE), and 1,1-dichloroethene (1,1-DCE) at the site. 

CMI went out of business many years ago, leaving its contaminated Fullerton property as an “orphan site” requiring DTSC to step in and use state funds for emergency response cleanup of the contaminated soil.  Several years (and more than $2 million dollars) later, successors to the Chicago Instrument Company were identified, allowing DTSC to negotiate a settlement and recover much of its out-of-pocket costs. 

DTSC has recently announced a nearly $2 million settlement with the current and two previous owners of the contaminant site. The settlement is for previously incurred costs related to DTSC’s investigation and remediation efforts at the site, which have been ongoing since 2010.  

According to DTSC, “As part of the settlement, United Duralume Products Inc. (UDP), the current owner, paid $1.1 million for previous costs. Prior owners, Pitney Bowes Inc., and Novitex Enterprise Solutions, Inc., paid more than $800,000 for previous costs and are responsible for all of DTSC’s future costs related to the investigation and remediation of the VOCs at the site and off-site.”

Currently, DTSC is working with the EPA and with the Orange County Water District to address the VOC-impacted groundwater contamination in the North Basin that has moved beyond the site’s boundaries into the drinking water supply.  Besides this site, more than 15 other industrial sites have contributed to the contaminate plume that has grown to several miles in length in the cities of Placentia, Fullerton, and into Anaheim, necessitating the removal of five wells from service. Removal of the wells and the ongoing testing done by OCWD’s Advanced Water Quality Assurance Laboratory of all drinking water wells ensures that high-quality water meeting state and federal drinking water standards comes to your homes and businesses.

OCWD is currently working with the EPA on the performance of a remedial investigation and feasibility study of the length, width and depth of the plume that extends approximately five miles long and more than one mile wide.  Following completion of that study, an interim solution focused on capture and control of the regional groundwater problem will be selected by the EPA. 

More information about the former CMI site can be found here. Other items of interest can be found at the North Basin Protection Project web page


Denis R. Bilodeau, P.E.