Source: http://www.pe.com, October 26, 2012
By: Janet Zimmerman
Companies that produced fireworks at a Rialto industrial site where perchlorate contaminated the water supply have agreed to pay $5.7 million — the first of three settlements expected to total more than $100 million, officials said.
The money will cover cleanup costs and reimburse residents who have been paying a surcharge on their water bills for almost a decade.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Rialto, Colton and San Bernardino County had sued Pyro Spectaculars Inc. and other parties suspected of dumping or burning toxic chemicals in pits at the site north of Interstate 210, between Alder and Locust avenues. The cities, as well as water districts not involved in the lawsuits, shut down 20 contaminated wells and installed treatment equipment after the pollution was discovered in 1997.
The contamination was found when tests became available to detect perchlorate at low levels. It is unknown how long the contaminated water was delivered to consumers before that.
An assessment by the state Department of Public Health last year concluded that tap water from two wells could have caused thyroid problems that affected the physical and mental development of people who grew up in Rialto in the 1980s.
The settlement was filed earlier this month in federal court. A second settlement with Emhart Industries, a subsidiary of Black and Decker, and others is expected to be filed in the next several weeks, said attorney Gene Tanaka, who represents the city of Colton.
The amount of that settlement is confidential, but it will cover the cost of pumping and treating contaminated water, he said Friday, Oct. 26.
Between the two deals, Rialto residents will get back about $9 million in “perchlorate charges” they have paid on bills since 2004, Rialto City Councilman Ed Scott said. The surcharge will stop in December or January, which is when rebate checks will be issued to current and former residents, he said.
The charge is based on water use. Some large business owners in the city have paid up to $50,000 in perchlorate charges, he said.
It is unclear how much homeowners will get back because rebates are based on usage.
“It’s a great settlement for the city. It’s exactly what we wanted all along, to have our water cleaned up and to give some money back to the residents,” Scott said. “We’re clearly at the end of this whole thing.”
A third agreement with B.F. Goodrich Corp. is still being negotiated, he said.
According to the Oct. 10 consent decree with Pyro Spectaculars, its subsidiaries Astro Pyrotechnics Inc. and Trojan Fireworks Co., Thomas O. Peters and Stonehurst Site LLC, the federal government will receive $4.3 million; Colton and Rialto will each receive $500,000; and the county will get $333,000.
The companies did not admit liability. The settlement is expected to be finalized by a judge next month.
Pyro Spectaculars’ attorney, Gary Brown, was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Perchlorate, an ingredient in fireworks and rocket fuel, and trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent, seeped into groundwater and has traveled at least three miles to the southeast, toward wells owned by the city of Riverside. The chemicals are linked to thyroid problems and cancer.
The 160-acre parcel, known as the B.F. Goodrich site, was placed on the federal Superfund list of priority cleanup sites in 2009. The EPA plan is to pump and treat the water from underground basins over the next 30 years, work that is expected to cost more than $100 million.
Patricia Robinson, a 34-year Rialto resident, was pleased by the news, though for years she has been hearing a settlement is near. She and her husband pay more than $20 per month for the perchlorate surcharge for their home and a rental.
“It will be great if it happens,” she said. “It will be nice for people around here, because it’s not a rich community. It’s a hard-working bedroom community.”