Railroads Pay to Relocate California Drinking Water Well
SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 4, 2009 (ENS) - The Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway have agreed to pay nearly $1 million in cleanup costs at a Superfund site in the town of Arvin, California, the U.S. EPA announced today.

Located in an industrial, agricultural, and residential area of Kern County, the five acre site was used by Brown & Bryant Inc. for the formulation of pesticides, herbicides, fumigants, and fertilizers from 1960 to 1989, when the company went out of business.

In 1981, the site was licensed by the federal government as a hazardous waste transporter.

The EPA says contamination of soil and groundwater resulted from inadequate procedural controls, chemical spills during operations, and leaks from a surface wastewater pond and sumps.

In 1989, the site was placed on the Superfund List. Later, a series of removal actions cleared contaminants from surface soils which posed the most immediate threat to human health.

The settlement funds totaling $985,000 will be used to relocate a drinking water well, Arvin City Well No. 1, as a precautionary measure. The well is located just 1,500 feet from the site in the direct path of slow moving contaminants migrating from the site.

Sign marking the boundary of Arvin, California (Photo credit unknown)
The well is tested monthly by the City of Arvin and is not currently contaminated, according to the city and the EPA.

"This action is a safeguard to ensure that the people who rely on Arvinís water system will continue to receive clean, safe drinking water," said Keith Takata, the Superfund Division director for the EPAís Pacific Southwest region.

"The current well is not a problem right now, but the new well will be in a better, more protective location," he said.

The EPA is currently working with the Arvin Community Services District to determine a location for placement of the new city well.

The Arvin-Edison Water District maintains six municipal groundwater wells within one mile of the site. The public water system supplies drinking water to about 7,800 people and irrigates about 19,600 acres of cropland.

Under orders from the state of California, Brown & Bryant, Inc., conducted a limited investigation of the site and removed some of the contaminated soil. But when the firm closed in 1989, the EPA and the state were left to solve the remaining contamination problems.

Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway are considered responsible for the contamination because they leased land that they owned to Brown & Bryant Inc., which operated the agricultural chemicals facility at the site.

A third potentially responsible party, Shell Oil Company, which supplied some of the pesticides to the site, chose not to participate in today's settlement agreement.

A trial court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with EPA that both railroads are liable as owners of the site and that Shell Oil Company is liable as an arranger of disposal of hazardous substances, in light of its knowledge that spills were routine in deliveries controlled by Shell.

On February 24, the U.S. Supreme Court will hold a hearing reviewing this decision.

Today's settlement agreement will proceed independently from the Supreme Court review of pending litigation involving both the railroads and Shell Oil Company for the Brown & Bryant site.

The site is currently vacant, is secured by a chain-link fence and is paved with asphalt.

The soil contains numerous pesticides such as dinoseb, ethylene dibromide and other fumigants, and the EPA says the groundwater also is contaminated with pesticides. "People who accidentally ingest or come into direct contact with contaminated groundwater or soil may be at risk," the agency says.

An investigation to explore the nature and extent of the area-wide groundwater contamination was completed in a 2005 Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. A proposed plan was sent out for public comment in June 2007. The final alternative for cleanup options is pending.

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