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    Halaco Superfund Site: Community Still Seeks Answers from EPA

    By Christina Zubko

    (above: screenshot of slide depicting the contaminated Superfund site)

    Karmen King, EPA TASC Technical Advisor, met with a group of approximately 40 concerned Oxnard and Hueneme residents at the South Oxnard Center on September 15 to discuss the Halaco Superfund Site. Also in attendance was EPA Remedial Project Manager, Kujani Cole. Several members of the Saviers Road Design Team and Friends of Ormond Beach attended as well as Port Hueneme city councilman Steven Gama. Several officials from the city of Oxnard and the EPA were also in attendance. The meeting was live-streamed and recorded.

     

    In her two hour presentation, King gave a brief overview of the history of the Halaco Superfund site. In 1965, Halaco Engineering began its operations and from 1971 to 2004, when it ceased operation, the company pumped wastewater across the Ormond Lagoon Waterway into settling ponds. In 2006, the EPA began its assessment of the area and in 2007, the agency designated it a Superfund site.

     

    King explained that the EPA just completed step 3, remedial investigation (RI), of the 9 steps in the Superfund Process. The RI concluded that casual encounters with the contaminated material pose little risk to humans but for commercial/industrial workers and construction workers, the risk is greater. These findings, along with the feasibility study, will drive how ultimately the Superfund site is remediated. Remediation can include leaving the material in place to hauling it away and burying it in another community. Because the owners of the Halaco Engineering Company declared bankruptcy, taxpayer dollars will have to be used, which means this site will have to compete with other sites for those dollars. Superfund sites are ranked and prioritized, and funding follows the ranking. Harris-Bishop asserted that he is hopeful that this project will get the funding.

     

    King reported that the EPA investigated the extent of contamination on nature and an evaluation of the soil, air, groundwater was completed. Results of those evaluations were outlined in King’s slideshow presentation.

     

    Rusty Harris-Bishop, EPA Project Manager for Region 9, joined King. He emphasized that relative to other superfund sites, the Halaco Superfund site is small, has low-level contamination, and is uncomplicated.  The radiation, he emphasized, is minimal and is at the bottom of the pile with 30 feet of dirt on top of it.  He explained that the Superfund site consists of 5 parcels of land that are privately owned and the EPA can’t make land-use decisions–that is up to the property owners. The EPA also can’t force the owners to maintain fencing around their properties to prevent the homeless from setting up camps.

     

    Several community members spoke during the question and answer session. One Spanish-speaking resident asked why it was taking so long to remove the pile if it was truly low-risk. Port Hueneme city councilman Steven Gama added that if this site was uncomplicated and small, it should be relatively easy to remove the pile, yet talks of alternatives to removing the pile remain an option. “We can’t leave a pile of slag there, this is the gem of Ventura County,” he noted.  Long-time resident Pat Brown echoed Gama’s sentiment and said at age 81, it is her dream to see Halaco cleaned up before she dies.

     

    Many long-time residents questioned what happened to the follow up of health reports emerging from the community. Shirley Godwin claimed that South Oxnard in particular had the highest incidence of kidney cancer surgery and thyroid cancer in the state. She also described a blue cloud that would appear over Halaco before it was capped when the wind blew in a certain direction. Dennis O’ Learly, a school trustee in Oxnard for 17 years, added that there was a spike in children and teachers with asthma in the area that many believed was related to Halaco.  He questioned whether the EPA had investigated those reports. King explained that substantiating those reports is difficult.

     

    Doug Partello, who identified himself as having lived in Oxnard for 36 years, questioned why the EPA had not yet sought intervention from a judge against the property owners who do not live in the community, are uncooperative with the city, and care little about the harm they are causing to South Oxnard.

     

    Other concerns involved social and environmental justice and the need for more details around groundwater intrusion. One speaker suggested that the EPA look to private funding for the remediation process.

     

    The presentation ended with a preview of the next step in the Superfund process: the feasibility study. The feasibility study, which Harris-Bishop expects to be completed by mid 2023, will determine which alternative will be selected and the EPA evaluates alternatives against nine criteria, including community acceptance. Harris-Bishop concluded that the Superfund process is time intensive and it involves coordinating with other agencies, including the CA Coastal Commission. He anticipates a shovel in the ground in 2025. King reminded attendees that additional meetings with the EPA can be scheduled in the future if the community requests them.

     

    Christina Zubko is co-founder of Friends of Ormond Beach which advocates for the conservation of the Ormond Beach wetlands. You can follow Friends of Ormond Beach on Instagram and email the organization at [email protected]


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    2 COMMENTS

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    Douglas D Partello
    Douglas D Partello
    18 days ago

    The two published reports on the Halaco site, and surrounding area identified any activity that increases the dust, such as motorbike riding, and other activities, increases the risks to humans with the aluminum, magnesium, and other chemicals present in the surface layer of the contaminated soil. Yet, at the meeting Sept. 15, 2022, they were stating that there is no risk from the air pathway. These statements seem in direct contradiction to the published report. There is a final report to be published in 2023. Perhaps new information will be shared that help clear up this confusion. In the extensive reports there is also no testing epidemiologically of humans for respiratory illnesses related to inhaled exposure, cancer, and non-cancer illnesses that may be related to exposure of toxic materials. Dennis O’Leary raised questions about increased numbers of students presenting with asthma-like symptoms. Myself and others have tasted the metallic taste in our mouths from the dust. This remains an open question that requires further investigation. The tone of the presentation was of minimizing the risks the site posed to the community. How will that play to the decision makers when funding for various sites is considered? Let’s hope good science gives the answers we seek, and this will finally be a dark chapter in Oxnard history we can turn the page on.

    Douglas D Partello
    Douglas D Partello
    18 days ago

    Good article Christina. One of the things I was struck by, and mentioned in my comments at the meeting, is the statement that air pathway as a biological risk to humans and animals is no longer considered a risk. This seems to be in direct conflict with the risks highlighted in the two studies that were published. I am not sure if new information is forthcoming in the final report to come in 2023. The particulate matter from the slag pile contains metals, and other substances that are harmful to the respiratory tract. Antidotally, a speaker from the school board noted an increase awareness by parents of asthma in children in neighboring schools, which may have linkage to Halaco. Tremendous effort and focus by the EPA has been on soil contamination, and testing of all types of plants, animals, fish and sea life. But no epidemiological testing was ever mentioned. Should this not be a critical part of the investigation, and possible remediation? Throughout the presentation it seemed they were diminishing the possible environmental and biological risks present day. How is this going to play to the decision makers in Congress, and the EPA, when they present this Super Fund site for funding to remove the toxic waste? Seems we may be stuck with Halaco for a very, very long time.

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