Shell Pays $55 Million for Decades-Old Pollution at Del Amo Superfund Site

Thursday, October 01, 2015

In 1940, the year before Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Rubber Reserve Company (RRC) to stockpile natural rubber and regulate synthetic rubber production in cooperation with Firestone, B.P. Goodrich, Goodyear and U.S. Rubber.

The RRC and the newly-created Defense Plant Corporation (DPC) jointly developed facilities for the U.S. government on a 280-acre site in unincorporated Del Amo in southern Los Angeles County and along with Shell Oil Company, who bought it in 1955, saturated the air, water and soil with toxic materials until it all closed down in 1972.

The area now hosts a couple of Superfund cleanup sites and this week Shell agreed to pitch in $55 million for the ongoing cleanup. The lengthy, detailed settlement (pdf) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comes after years of negotiation and decades of health complaints. Around 17,600 people live within a mile of the site.

It won’t cover all the costs or end the problem anytime soon. “The cleanup horizon for groundwater is well over 50 years,” John Lyons, acting director of the Region Nine Superfund Division, told KPCC.

But the soil cleanup being paid for by Shell might be done in three to five years. That should keep the contamination from spreading and becoming more potent.

They’ll inject new, kinder chemicals into the ground to break up the contamination found below. Vapors will be vacuumed from soil and a building will get better ventilation. More concrete and asphalt will be poured to contain soil contamination.

That’s what happens when disposing of toxic materials is not part of the business plan. The synthetic rubber process used nasty chemicals like benzene, propane, butylene and butane, which were dumped as wastewater sludge in unlined pits and ponds. Eventually, they were covered with soil or asphalt while the chemicals soaked into the ground and the groundwater.

The authorities have only recently begun testing the air above tainted groundwater to measure the presence of vapors.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and one local activist whose organization has led the fight for cleanup has already weighed in.

Cynthia Babich, director of the Del Amo Action Committee, told KPCC the settlement is a step forward, but she would have liked a peek at the deal before it was signed. “It’s been a longstanding argument that affected communities should have some kind of a say and an overview before these consent decrees are signed.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

$55 Million Pledged in Deal to Clean Up Del Amo Superfund Site (by Jed Kim, KPCC)

Toxic California Cleanup Settled for $55 Million (by Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News Service)

Shell to Spend $55 Million to Clean Soil at Old South Bay Rubber Plant (by Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times)

It's Never Too Late to Test the Air Around Toxic Superfund Sites (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

United States and California Department of Toxic Substances Control v. Shell Oil Company (U.S. District Court Central District of California Western Division) (pdf)

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