Orange County North Basin remains on Superfund standby

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Photo of the OC North Basin processing facility.
(Tyler Nelson / Daily Titan)

Fullerton residents voiced their concerns about water contamination in the Orange County North Basin and the risk it poses to the health of the community on Nov. 14.  

The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to decide on whether it should place the basin on its Superfund National Priorities List.

“We proposed the site to be put on the list and we haven’t made a final decision yet,” said

Caleb Shaffer, who is involved with Superfund remedial program for the EPA. “I do want to emphasize that all the drinking water that is served in Orange County meets federal and state safe-drinking water standards.”

The Superfund cleanup process is extensive, and stretches out to a nine-step process. The North Basin is still in the early stages of the process as the EPA is still investigating the contamination and whether it should be put on the list, Shaffer said.

The contamination has affected groundwater that supplies up to 75 percent of the drinking water for 2.5 million people in 22 different Orange County cities, including the Cal State Fullerton campus. Nahal Mogharabi, EPA’s Southern California spokeswoman, told the Daily Titan on May 9 that the contamination is believed to have existed for decades in some places.

Fullerton resident Kent Daugherty is concerned about the remedial process.

“I keep getting different information. Today they said 75 percent of the water. The guys testing the well told me we only get half of the water from the well. I’m just a little leery of flow charts and presentations that tell you what the process is going to be,” Daugherty said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has around 100 Superfund sites in the state of California, Shaffer said.

“This is a common example of a site we would get involved in. We have a number of sites similar to this in the San Fernando Valley and the San Gabriel Valley,” Shaffer said about the North Basin.  

According to the the Environmental Protection Agency, the groundwater is contaminated with several dangerous chemicals, including trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and 1,1-dichloroethylene (1,1 DCE), all of which are known carcinogens or substances that are capable of causing cancer in living tissue.

These chemicals have leaked from the soil into the groundwater through manufacturing and processing facilities.

Shane Borowski, who has lived in Fullerton for 15 years, said his three-year-old daughter may have been affected by the contaminated water as she has developed vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes the loss of skin color in blotches.

“For my wife and I, it was devastating,” Borowski said. “(We have) no genetic links on either side of the family. We did some research and found out it can be environmentally triggered.”

Borowski said the Environmental Protection Agency and the Orange County Water District could not tell him if the contaminated water reached his tap water.

“The city couldn’t definitively rule it out, the county couldn’t definitively rule it out and the EPA couldn’t,” Borowski said.

The EPA has yet to make a final decision on whether to put the North Basin on the Superfund list, Shaffer said.

“We try often to make a decision within a year. It’s difficult to say because it ranges,” Shaffer said. “On a small site we can make it within six months and a larger site may take a little longer.”

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