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Feb-28-2013 10:00printcomments

Irvine CA Great Park and Google® Headquarters: TCE Contaminant Progeny

Trichloroethylene (TCE) Raises Its Ugly Head…..This Time In Idyllic, Upscale Mountain View CA (Silicon Valley)

Google Corporate HQ in Mountain View CA
Google Corporate HQ in Mountain View CA: It's a
wonderful day in their neighborhood! Courtesy: Google Earth

(LAGUNA BEACH) - ( Editor's note: Google's new Silicon Valley corporate offices in Mountain View CA are uninhabitable due to the presence of TCE:

Office tour: googleplex.html

"EPA officials said they also found high levels of TCE in more than twenty different commercial buildings between Whisman Road and Ellis Street. Included among those buildings are two new office complexes for Google employees where, the EPA says, renovations and construction allowed higher than expected levels of TCE to leech from the ground through the buildings’ concrete slabs and into the air inside.")

Source: Stephan Stock & David Paredes

We know that we’re banging on the same damned drum, but for our veteran browsers as well as newbies, with a fanfare, TAH DAH!

Lesson #1: TCE is a carcinogenic chemical, a chlorinated hydrocarbon compound that’s been seriously used as an industrial solvent, cleaner and degreaser since about 1930.

It is a known carcinogen, but there’s also substantial proof from recent studies that point towards mutagenic (induces or increases the frequency of mutation in an organism) plus teratogenic (causing malformations of an embryo or fetus).

TCE is your basic every day trifecta of negative chemical impacts and reactions that seemed, like getting drunk and driving as a teen, a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much.

While Marines were literally flushing jet engines out with it, then scrubbing down the actual aircraft at former MCAS El Toro while breathing the vapors and their skin absorbing the excesses slopped around, the computer manufacturers (Intel®, Raytheon® and Fairchild®) used it in the creation of their parts beginning around 1970.

The plume that now contaminates the soil and aquifer under Google® HQ is estimated to be about 1.5 miles long and .5 mile wide. The one beneath Irvine’s Great Park remediation fiasco is slightly larger. To remind readers, many of the Dept. of the Navy base rehab meetings I attended took place sitting over this plume. Maybe that explains the low attendance by public employees and rampant ADD of participants?

Lesson #2: TCE is a Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid. DNAPLs tend to sink below the water table when spilled in significant quantities and only stop when they reach impermeable bedrock. Their incursion into an aquifer and penetration into surrounding semi and/or permeable soil makes them difficult to locate and remediate.

The pumping out and remediation can affect distribution of the TCE sitting at lower depths, not to mention other heavy metals and similar compounds like Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB). They are reintroduced from the adjacent saturated soil and then get added to the persistent re-contamination due to below ground hydraulic processes.

Imagine an aquifer as a subterranean bathtub with somewhat porous earthen edges in all directions. As the aquifer capacity is reduced due to pumping and droughts, the TCE is drawn out. A tractive (pulling or drawing) force pulls liquids in from the adjacent soil and partially recharges the basin plus insinuates the additives that have accumulated and accreted (attached/embedded).

Du Pont & Dow: Are we having fun yet?

Significant rainy events refill the tub, and it becomes a diminishing return situation. 40 years of pumping===Eventually or perhaps when-ev-er. “Better things for better living….through chemistry”, just like the DuPont® ads promised, huh?

Successful removal is problematic while bioremediation and cleansing is being attempted, and the process gets more protracted and unpredictable due to weather cycles over which we have no control: As in “not accomplished,” which is very probable, mind you, the caveat is more like what Coach John Wooden said: “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

Most sites never really achieve 100% elimination of TCE, instead the cleanups focus on reduction down to current USEPA metrics (5 parts per billion or 5ppb) because frankly they’ll never completely get these toxic ticks out completely. It’s very invasive and insidious to say the least.

"A study released in October of 2012 found a historical increase in cancer among residents of northeastern Mountain View where the large plume of TCE has contaminated the soil and groundwater for decades. Between 1996 and 2005 the report found nearly twice the normal rate of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer that starts in the body's lymphatic system and quickly spreads. The Greater Bay Area Cancer Registry studied an area east of Shoreline Boulevard and mostly north of Central Expressway, comparing rates of TCE-related cancers to that of average rates in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties. The registry found 31 cases of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, but expected only 17. "  Source: Daniel DeBolt  Mountain View Voice

And yes, just as Google® and the USEPA are admitting up north, the Great Park aquifer will take decades to clean up---Unflustered and stoic guesses are at about 40 years. Funny how they only “estimate” and still get paid, guaranteed salaries, isn’t it?

We can put high tech prototype rovers on Mars that take high rez photos, do incredible feats, are accurate within a few feet of landing sites yet we can’t really discern the endgame of pollution abatement we’ve studied to “death” for decades.

And if we who supported the conversion of former MCAS El Toro into a model people’s park aren’t having fun just yet, wait’ll they start tearing down the remaining buildings, bulldozing the slabs and ripping up the runways. Know what’s under all of that hardscape? The Great Pork Board either (a) doesn’t know, (b) won’t tell us or (c) both. Are we having fun yet? Are we almost there?

Now that they’ve dissolved the former 9-member Board (4 at large public representatives gone) after last year’s election power grab, the Irvine City Council has all 5 remaining seats on it. And who in their right mind believes that they won’t do what’s best for their city, Devil take the hindmost? The people who helped them leverage around $250 million seed money (now also gone) no longer have any say-so.

Meanwhile, Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway is now Chairman of the Great Park Board. He has declared that to assure the former airfield never becomes a civilian facility, all of that supporting hardscape is coming up, including the old runways.

  Irvine Ranch pastures of plenty….then plenty of soil sterilizers to prepare for MCAS El Toro

As we at Salem-News have repeatedly pointed out, including live and in person at Irvine City Council meetings, what’s underneath those impervious surfaces may hold even more challenges.

The former tenants and land users were the Irvine Ranch, and they (albeit in ignorance) used DDT and other insecticides in abundance for decades on their crops. Measurable residue of these substances remains in the aquifer and outlying drainage watercourses as the chemicals leech out.

To sterilize the soil in preparation for the planned airfield in the early 1940s yet more carcinogenic chemicals were widely broadcast. This insured that nothing would grow up or out. Forever. Or until a berg like Irvine figures that all of the OC voters and taxpayers are suckers who’ll help them finance not only the remediation but subsidize their development growth (read income portfolio) potential. If it were tennis, it was definitely “Advantage Irvine” and continues unabated—just like the contamination.

Pied Piper of Irvine Jeffrey Lalloway
   Architect of Great Park Board Coup

Once exposed, tilled and generally mucked up, the subsequent rainfalls will just percolate these relatively topical pollutants down faster and spread them more widely. The cleanup then becomes a sort of guestimate, a Kentucky windage with vagaries kind of deal.

Maybe Jeffy-cakes should change his name to LOL Lalloway….after all, he’s a family law attorney, residents might want to divorce themselves from the fiscal pit joke he’s suggesting. Whoever breaks ground is on the hook for $$$ remediation support because, hey Iffy Jeffy, that’s the law.

Leaving everything in place as it is right now might just be the cheapest, easiest to bio-remediate and less environmentally damaging, the lesser evil of Irvine’s choices. Jeffy’s possibly buying time for his city and his cronies, time that WE in a sense paid Irvine for anyway. Welcome to the big $$$ bungle in the jungle.

In Irvine, like in Mountain View, once they start the bulldozers on that hardscape you’ll want to hold your breath not only because of the vapors but whilst you’re awaiting firm, definitive admission. You know the one leading to remorse and contrition, owning up to mistakes, lessons learned, right?

You might as well exhale now because anything that jeopardizes, that threatens Irvine’s future revenue model now that they’ve blown their budget is verboten. They’ll be in denial mode, not intervention city. This is why the base remediation was NEVER discussed in depth or breadth by any of the candidates during Irvine’s City Council race. They will only “go there” if, like an intervention, they’re kidnapped, taken there kicking and screaming and have no choice.

Irvine's Larry ("What, me worry?") Agran
   King of Denial and Great Park Pirate

Look for the City Council aka Great Pork Board to circle the wagons and proclaim that nothing’s wrong with the property just like Agran’s toadies did, and that there’s no risk because EPA told them so.

It’s really a kind of intrusive hold-up or robbery, people HAVE been hurt by the TCE et al, they ARE being hurt and WILL be hurt but those in power will never admit it. That’s why God made those happy face emoticons and PR flacks.

Discussion of the risks and attendant benefit analyses will exclude the soil and groundwater dynamics I’m broaching, so Irvine will NOT admit to the extent of the damaged goods they plan on turning into cash cows (tax coffers). It’ll be what’s best for them, not what’s best for the environment or adjacent municipalities.

I feel your pain, Mountain View. I watched a local TV news feed bobble head, a prompter-reading actor, interview the usual EPA press relations CYA sockpuppet hack exclaiming like napalm-loving Robert Duvall in “Apocalypse Now” how safe it all is. Just like here, our media fawn all over this rotting corpse of a hazardous waste landfill and don’t do much digging themselves.

Another irony is a reality check vis-à-vis the contiguous neighborhood around Google’s Ground Zero @ 379 North Whisman Road. I used (ah shucks, you peeked!) their own Google Earth application and guess what? Their HQ (like the Great Park) is surrounded by residential development, so I wonder how these homeowners are sleeping and what kind of beddy-bye stories they’re reading to their kids?

Permanente Creek near Googleplex: Permanently Post-mortem

Google boasts of its offices being in proximity to beautiful nature for visitors and employees to enjoy. They highlight Permanente Creek as as exemplary trail and park. At one time the endangered, anadromous steelhead trout found their way up from SF Bay to make it and adjacent tributaries home. Now they're gone due to increased urbanization impacts. There are still numerous endangered and threatened species found locally but in limited numbers. What Google's PR flacks aren't admitting is that this watershed and the adjacent one, Stevens Creek, are contaminated with USEPA excesses in the range of 3-5 times allowable limits for selenium and mercury.

The endangered Western Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) nests near the mouth of Stevens Creek. In 2008, the City of Mountain View evicted a pair of burrowing owls so that it could sell a parcel of land to Google to build a hotel at Shoreline Boulevard and Charleston Road. Eviction of the owls was controversial because the birds regularly reuse burrows for years, and there was no requirement that suitable new habitat be found for the owl.

You're not really gonna pave over my family's burrow?
  You guys are joking, you're from "Giggle," not Google?

The political will in the area, like Irvine, let Google build an upscale hotel for their visiting employees and dignitaries. In the last 15 years the Owl's habitat has shrunk more than 50% in the Bay Area. Ecologically and morally but certainly not financially bankrupt, thanks Google, you guys rock, you really give back to the community!

Now add in the PCBs (detritus from semi-conductor and other electrical parts insulation) and TCE: I guess you get "Permanently Creek" as in "Go to those creeks and you're REALLY up one without a paddle-----but don't go in, they're permanently poison!" Biologists are concerned about bio-accumulation; as the predator-prey food chain occurs these toxic substances are ingested, stored in fatty tissue and hence cascade vertically and horizontally through indigenous ecosystems.

Forbes Magazine lists the region as the 8th dirtiest in America. "You don't equate Silicon Valley with pollution, but the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara metro area is home to more than a dozen Superfund (CERCLA) sites where chipmakers like Fairchild and Intel leaked toxic substances into the Earth. Ozone pollution is also a problem."

Irvine's Iffy Jeffy (LOL) Lalloway speaking to media:
If I say this hazardous waste dump is safe, then it's safe!

It doesn’t need the contortions of a “6 Degrees Of Kevin Bacon” forensic search to see that similar carcinogens, buried and/or poured by the thousands of gallons don’t (like the movie Poltergeist) literally come back to haunt us.

Duvall played Lt. Colonel Kilgore, so Francis Ford Coppola understands irony---Dow® and Du Pont®, our chemical brothers, best friends forever because that’s about how long it will take to remediate sites like Mountain View and the Great Park down to EPA’s slack safety standards.

Larry Agran is our beloved precious naysayer equivalent but without the uniform, he’s been whispering those soothing, patronizing slurpy sounds like Golem for years, you might want to borrow him. God knows we won’t miss him.

None of us reading this will live to see that “Mission Accomplished” day, so surrounding residents don’t hold your breath (a little TCE, USMC gallows humor joke there). Hey, maybe George Bush will come out of his crypt and cut the ribbon like he did over Iraq?

Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey: Laughing
   all of the way to retirement on our $$$

Down here we had Larry Agran with his pitifully stupid, Alfred E. Neumann, “What, me worry?” smile doing the same insulting clownish antics as your politicians, the ones whose pockets are slick and filled to the brim with lobbyist payola. Whattyaknow, bulging just like those contaminant-laden aquifers, now is this a land of opportunity, a great country or what?

We’ve been going down this road for years, chasing the same rabbit down the same hole into Wonderland out in Irvine. Maybe you Mountain View folks could do the same thing?

My house is built on what? Dr. Death
aka TCE: He's baaaaack.... and for good.

Spend hundreds of millions remediating then creating your own visionary hazardous waste site-cum-great park facility. We’ll lend you Larry Agran, now that he’s not Boss Kingfish around here anymore please take him. Pretty please?

Oh, and we’ll throw in that pitiful excuse of a Great Park CEO, Mike Ellzey, the one with the questionably bogus Marine Corps record who evaded overseas duty and fluffed his Great Park CV. He’s from San Jose, he’d probably love the better, more upscale zip code. Besides, he’s a walking pile of greenwash BS anyway, so render unto Mikey.

Back in USMC boot camp our DI had a saying when a trainee messed up while he wasn’t on duty: “Private? If you’re going to screw me while my back's turned, could you please take your hands off of my shoulders, stop the reach-around and just whisper your name so’s I know who to ask for next time?”

Well, your local politicians will probably be those loving hands and appendages, the EPA will tell you calming information about how safe you are, the parties responsible for the contamination not be held financially or legally accountable but at least you WILL know who to ask for next time. And the time after that.

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FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!

Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he moved to Orange County in 1965 and has lived in Laguna Beach since 1972. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.

View articles written by Roger Butow Read Roger's full biography on the Staff Page

His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.

Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email:

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