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Mar-12-2013 13:26printcomments

Mountain View CA: TCE Plume Remediation Will Take 100 Years

Irvine Great Park TCE Cleanup: What doesn’t USEPA know and when didn’t they know it?

Blind monkeys
'Your government working for you - Wikimedia         v

(LAGUNA BEACH) - Mountain View and Irvine might be 400 miles apart here in California but they are populated by the same regulatory oversight players and exhibit similar remediation dynamics------Including, but certainly not limited to nebulous timelines, indeterminate environmental and human health impacts plus vague eventual cost projections.

USEPA and state abatement agencies (Cal Dept. of Toxic Substance Control & Cal EPA et al) have begun to admit what most of us already knew: These trusted public regulatory folks are the Abbott & Costello of Superfund (CERCLA) remediation efforts.

They haven’t a clue but expect your faith in their expertise----I guess they must have stayed at a Holiday Inn® last night, huh?  Maybe they spent a lot of time studying up on their biotic analogs so’s to cover their asses, you know, The Three Monkeys? It’s “Hear, See & Speak No Evil” of politicians asleep at the fiduciary switch or other associated agencies pitiful efforts.

In Mountain View, they’ve admitted that they don’t know how many gallons of TCE, PCE, PCB and other carcinogenic substances were either poured onto soil surfaces or superficially buried (dumped).

Ditto for former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, now that riotously misnamed sobriquet Great Park in Irvine. “Great Hazardous Waste Site” is more appropriate. The Great Park and adjacent property have the additional residual pesticides and herbicides inherited from the Irvine Ranch agricultural fields, not to mention soil sterilizers and defoliants when converted to an airbase back in the 1940’s.

What’s being divulged now with “I don’t know,” the go to quote, is due to intense investigative journalism efforts, NOT voluntary disclosure. So regulatory doesn’t know which substances were actually dumped, how much of them (gallons or pounds) was dispersed, where they were released, nor who/what industrial corporation or government branch actually discarded these Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

Hell Toro, Irvine California. Click for larger image

Nor do they seem able to give us the metrics, the measurements to assure us that they legitimately know and can address in a refined manner:

How long will it take to cleanup the soil and groundwater?

What are the projected adverse impacts upon the non-human environs?

What were, are today and will be the future significant human health impairments (illnesses and death)?

I’m broaching the subject of past effects because in both the Moffett Field and Irvine areas, the usual transient nature of residents around bases and industrial commerce calls into question whether it’s at all possible to assess with certitude tell-tale, smoking gun cancer clusters.

The victims (civilian vendors and military personnel) are a traveling, moving demographic that’s difficult to trace. Then too cancer can take years to show up, so these victims seldom if ever connect the dots, follow the deadly breadcrumbs back to these bases and other Brownfield (Superfund), redevelopment candidate cleanup sites.

A Fall 2011 gem from an Irvine CA-based blog provides some disturbing insight into this maze we call bioremediation. Prospective homebuyers in the Columbus Grove/Tustin Fields area (near Irvine City Hall) have signed or are being required to sign this deed disclaimer or waiver (see below).

Note that it reads "accept these existing and future impacts and forever waive any and all causes of (legal) action…."


  • How long has this been going on in Irvine, and is this SOP for their real estate industry?
  • Is there a similar waiver being used up in Mountain View?
  • Is this going to be the proposed home and/or commercial parcel buyer waiver for the Great Park properties as LENNAR and its demon seed LLCs build it out?
  • When they start tearing up that hardscape including the runways at former MCAS El Toro, does this enjoin (forbid) the residents several miles away in the Columbus Grove/Tustin Fields area of Irvine from litigating (period), thus sheltering ALL developers, ALL real estate agencies and ALL 5 of their chums over at City Hall?

Go to the internet link, scroll down and read the alarming and concerned blog chatter from Irvine residents and it mirrors those in Mountain View.

And could someone please explain to me under what circumstances anyone can pre-emptively waive 100% tort rights in perpetuity without benefit of counsel?

THAT must have been challenged in our court system somewhere, sometime.

Isn't this just a stall or deflecting maneuver, one meant to discourage litigation?

The disclaimer seems to be an attempt to fulfill, to comply with the California Real Estate Disclosure Law by providing potential adverse conditions to purchasing entities but did or do the buyers understand the long term ramifications of affixing their signatures?

Just like the contamination cleanups themselves, it invokes the word FOREVER, as in  PERPETUAL and NEVER ENDING.


In Mountain View, they began serious cleanup assessment back in the 1980s. In El Toro it was determined in the 1990s. It’s not like they haven’t had enough professional time, attention and inspection by consultants. The wells and drainages certainly exhibited impairment symptoms through monitoring and water quality sampling over decades of time.

Once anyone with half of a brain tries to understand the recipe, the algorithm or formula, logic breaks down fast—--comparatively at light speed regarding the unending regulatory denial phase, the chosen strategy dime they can’t remove themselves from.

The only constant aspect of the equation in the analyses performed thus far and ongoing, is that they knew and continue knowing that there’s widespread contamination. As government constitutes the gatekeeper of information, they only divulge when forced to reveal the backstory---They never volunteer anything, the public watchdogs must use complex Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedures and other tooth-pulling inquiry tactics.

         USEPA invokes the Socratic method.

Socrates was considered by the Oracle at Delphi to be the wisest man in Greece. Why? Because he admitted that, on an ultimate metaphysical level, he knew nothing. So I guess that makes our public employees American geniuses at large.

That kind of logic might have been acceptable coming from a speculative philosopher 2500 years ago, but here’s some USEPA quotes from Mountain View that should make us all more comfy:

“When we asked the EPA if they knew exactly how long have these newly discovered TCE hot spots had been there the EPA’s Superfund Site manager Alana Lee said, ‘We don’t know.’

When we asked whether the toxic chemicals migrate underground or traveled down Evandale Avenue or whether those chemicals had been lurking there underground along with the rest of the toxic plume for decades, Lee had the same answer. 'We don’t know.'”

Try the following equation that applies to such complex cleanups, solving for 3 variable unknowns, X+Y+Z=???:

X = No exact data on amount or type of substance dumped.
Y = No exact data on where/how these substances were dispersed and/or deposited.
Z = Area size and geologic/hydrologic dynamics of the soil affected AND groundwater drainage patterns
??? = Remediation timelines, impacts and eventual costs.

We know now that they haven’t any specifics about X or Y, and taking a peek at Z isn’t much more fruitful. Aquifers are difficult to assess because we aren’t Superman with X-ray vision. The porosity, exact dimensions or imperviousness of their perimeters makes for some sketchy analyses regarding transference between these subterranean basins as well as their internal dispersion and circulation dynamics.

 Z: As I’ve informed readers over the years, in El Niño years aquifers can become fully charged (filled) and can overflow, that is drain significant amounts into the lower gradient (elevation), adjacent water courses that usually remain dry.

During La Niñas, the aquifers can dry up considerably, the aquifer level below these contiguous drainages equals little if any water outside of the unseen basin itself.

Another poorly understood dynamic is to what extent, if any, do the storm water and wastewater line systems we’ve installed underground play in the transference, the migration of pollutants. As a builder myself and observer of installations throughout my travels, the pipes and infrastructure are usually placed 10-15 feet or so below finish grade in trenches.

The installations feature a circular, surrounding membrane of coarse rock, usually ¾” to 1” in diameter minimum. This not only stabilizes while installing but also allows leaks or other groundwater intrusions an exit pathway.

The more volume within that membrane the greater the hydrostatic pressure, though it’s constant pressure, in equilibrium (stable and relatively contained). More water equals greater increased likelihood of dispersion. In seismic activity country, there’s built in flexibility. Rigid pipes trapped in concrete will fail horrendously in a moderate quake.

Unfortunately, if the water that enters this permeable zone is laden with contaminants, then it can migrate to other equivalent elevations or to lower gradients. This is because larger buildup can eventually push/squeeze the degraded fluids to greater distances due to fluid dynamics. The water begins its movement in part due to the total volume, in part due to gradient differences and subterranean hydro-geologic conditions.

Let’s look at “???”:

Up in Mountain View, regulatory oversight estimates for the pumping and cleansing of TCE started at 300 years, now they’re down to a glorious 100 years. Their plume is apparently (i.e., “guestimated”) at about 1 mile wide by 1.5 miles long. Like Buddy Holly’s tune, “Maybe Baby,” they’re big on the MAYBE modifier. They assert they’ve removed over 100,000 lbs. of TCE by pumping and treating over 5 billion gallons of subterranean, perched aquifer water.

Here at the Great Park, they started low (20 years) then upped the ante recently to 40 years…or more. MAYBE. This plume is acknowledged to be about .7 to 1 mile wide and many miles long. Using similar technologies, they have pumped billions here as well since 2006.

As I’ve informed S-N readers before, about 1 million gallons per day of the toxic waste from the shallow aquifer cleansing process gets dumped into the Pacific Ocean about 1.2 miles off of the South Laguna shoreline.

Moffett/Mountain View. Click for larger image.

The Moffett Field/Mountain View violator list is impressive, although USEPA asserts that they really don’t know if there are other unknown/unidentified contributors:

Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation, Intel Corporation, Raytheon Company, Schlumberger Technology Corp. (Schlumberger), Renesas Electronics America Inc (formerly NEC Electronics America, Inc.), SMI Holding LLC (SMI), Vishay General Semiconductor (Vishay), UMCO Phoenix Corporation (SUMCO), National Semiconductor Corporation, Tracor X-Ray, Union Carbide

Now ask yourselves: Since they don’t really have discrete answers for either X, Y or Z, how can they possibly project, let alone reasonably determine ???, hmmmmm? Since this stuff migrates underground, can leech into adjacent soil and aquifers, why the Pollyanna projections? Will we, the public, EVER find out, ever be informed as to the true soil and groundwater contamination dimensions?

Imagine if they asked you to play football, then after you’d read up and practiced they kept moving the goal line, goal posts, field dimensions, # of downs, the size and shape of the ball, etc.?

Or if it was basketball, they raise the hoop, move the hoop sideways, change its size, move the free throw and 3 point lines, size and shape of the ball, size and shape of the court, etc.?

What if you volunteered to play in a game that has no set rules for equipment, or regulations; no set dimensions, no discernable purpose for the referees or victory timeline (endgame), etc? Now who wants to play and how is winning determined?

The metrics, the calculations and remediation projections are continually changing at each subsequent media release. The government claims that the respective finish lines, their mission accomplished “Hoorah!” is a result of due diligence, their ongoing remediation efforts, investigations and analyses.

So why did they, why are they still guaranteeing the local residents any dates whatsoever measured in decades regarding safety? Why bother, no one being born today will live to see it anyway. And why promise taxpayers picking up the tab what they actually have no clue about: Ongoing health impact timelines and that final invoice tab?

The infamous “Who’s on first?” routine by Abbott & Costello is an apropos metaphor for our perusal and analysis:

 “Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure I make this announcement. Now representing YOU, the public, and starring as major league players for these agencies at a toxic cleanup either already in or coming soon to your family’s neighborhood:

 1st Base: Who

At 2nd:  What

Playing 3rd: I Don't Know

In left: Why

In center: Because

In right: Nobody

Pitching: Tomorrow

Catching: Today

At shortstop: I Don't Care (aka I Don't Give a Damn)”

Now in this game, your opposition can substitute freely but not you. FYI to rookies, they rotate agency employees in and out like musical chairs to insure that watchdogs and concerned parties can’t pin down anyone on anything. And sometimes, even with a scorecard you can’t tell the players (agency reps) from the fans (consultants and CYA flacks).

They make sure that these employees dig their heels in, either don’t answer email inquiries or take a long, long time doing so, relying and banking upon impatience, fatigue or drop-out rates to lessen the burdened pile on their desks.

They have caller ID, so trying to pigeonhole, to corner them by phone doesn’t work. They see your name in the readout and I say good luck with that strategy.

Doesn’t matter anyway, they withhold data until these watchdogs specifically ask in writing for very, very discrete information---Info they can only ask about if they already HAD it in the first place! Welcome to Catch-22 Land.

Why do they keep asserting definitive cleanup timelines? Beats me. Once they started admitting that we should all be buying 22nd century calendars they lost me completely.

These are “Deadlines,” but in the ironic, mortality rate kind of way. If you were a party exposed to the gamut of these chemicals for years and are now experiencing a debilitative illness, how’s that 100-year finish line working for you or your loved ones?

Everyone knows the expression “Pig in a poke.” Following the bouncing ball of remediation, the every-changing recalibration of Superfund cleanup success scenarios is just that. Only difference is that we the public are the ones getting poked.
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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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Anonymous Too March 19, 2013 8:55 am (Pacific time)

Heat should never be mistaken for light nor is oratorical, blistering verbiage necessarily illuminating.
You're attacking this columnist's manner/style but ignore the content or context. So why are you attacking the person and not the intent or facts?
As for math, you Bob appear to be stuck in a quaint, simplistic but antiquated Euclidean world. Non-Euclidean Geometry (think Einstein) was the evolution of the field. If Einstein and his contemporaries just shrugged and said "It is what it is" (A Euclidean universe) then we'd be stuck back there. These early 20th Century theoretical physicists basically believed that it "Wasn't what it was," that something else was amiss in the "same old same old."
Math isn't static, unchanging, in many cases it isn't even exact (Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle).
Yes, the columnist writes in an absurd manner, exaggerating and stretching to make his points, but New Age Journalism (Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, et al) is like Non-Euclidean Geometry: It's about experimentation, about providing information in a different format or style.
MSM (main stream media) aren't doing that, which is why outlets like S-N are critical.
If Tim and Bonnie decide that having open dialogue and publishing a wide gamut of messages has intrinsic value, that's THEIR decision, not yours to be made.
I do agree with one thing the author wrote: When you wrote "Metaphor for what?" you lost me too. A metaphor is an abstract substitute, granted scientists avoid such vagaries but not writers or even wannabe writers.
And getting into ad hominem discussions with the authors fails to provide ANY illumination for critical readers. So Bob you've brought HEAT but little or no light.
You didn't debunk or refute one point in the entire column, in fact sustained some of it. So, Bob, what's the frequency?

Bob Wilson March 18, 2013 10:26 am (Pacific time)

I've been away a few days and finally getting around to responding to your latest comment. You say your mathematical statements are a "metaphor". Metaphor for what? What you fail to understand is that *mathematics*, the only *exact* discipliine man has, is not a metaphor for anything. It is what it is. (ask any mathematician or scientist) I also notice that you didn't try to fudge your way through the comment about what the USEPA didn't know and when didn't it know it. LOL. With such low standards as publishing your stuff, I can see why Salem-News is having trouble attracting financial support. I continue to wonder how you've sucked in Tim King, an otherwise reputable journalist (unlike yourself). I've used my real name here, but that is all I am required to divulge.

Roger E. Bütow March 15, 2013 6:26 am (Pacific time)

The equation was a metaphor, NOT a math lesson. You interpreted my 3 unknown equation in a superficial, linear, literalist mindset........You should look up both METAPHOR, LITERALIST and SARCASM, then grow a set of huevos and write your own columns using your real name, including your personal email and other contact info.
Blog trolls hiding behind bogus names are for the most part cowards.
Very few who use "Anonymous" have anything of real value to lose, it's just a convenient wall to hide behind while they play sniper.

Roger E. Butow March 14, 2013 3:55 pm (Pacific time)

Oh boy, another blog troll named "Anonymous." Now that's definitely original. Do you work for the City of Irvine, one of the City Council, or maybe LENNAR Development?
First, you are obviously a shallow-minded literalist. You read everything like an OCD person, take in and interpret everything at it's superficial or surface meaning, failing to see depth. It's like you only see 2 dimensions, breadth and width.....You get that mathematical concept, or do you?
Which puts you in good company, chronic violators of enviro-law and their oversight benefactors/facilitators ask US to only look so deep into the ground, only dig so far into the facts (Hint: That's called a METAPHOR in literature).
Yes, technically, you would need 3 equations to solve for 3 unknowns but I wrote and invoked the equation METAPHORICALLY, in jest, as a convenient mechanism of absurdity. It's supposed to be farcical and impossible, just like the rehabs themselves, now do you get it?
They say that if you have to explain a joke then you're dealing with a lost puppy.
Maybe you need to look up metaphor.
And SARCASM while you're at it.
I should thank you, you did validate and concur with my low opinion of USEPA, which begs the question:
What didn't you like about my drivel and when didn't you like it?
If you're so intelligent, why don't YOU write columns for S-N using your real name, send me an email letting me know, and I'll ream and nitpick your ass? Sound fair?

Anonymous March 14, 2013 12:41 pm (Pacific time)

Well, Mr.Butow, I'd saddened to see that your writing standards/knowledge continue to decline--article by article. You write: "What doesn’t USEPA know and when didn’t they know it?" What a nonsense question as you futilely try to be clever. What the USEPA doesn't know would be a potentially infinite list and when didn't they know it would stretch back to the Big Bang. Your mathematical knowledge also appears to be infinitesimally small. You bring in three unknowns, X, Y, and Z; oblivious to the fact that for three unknowns to have any meaning, you would need three equations. I'm going to have to stop reading your stuff--if Salem-News publishes anything after this. You're definitely an odd man--in or out.

Roger E. Butow March 13, 2013 4:44 pm (Pacific time)

The Irvine real estate minions have started bombing me (metaphorically) in outrage. I have received 3 nasty phone calls, they don't put things in writing unless it's an escrow document.
As I've shared with our S-N Team El Toro (TET), it's NEVER been about properly remediating the former MCAS El Toro. It's ALWAYS been about $$$.
If Irvine realtors WERE required to divulge the potential adverse impacts/effects that exist throughout their domain it could cripple the market. Property assessment values for taxation plummet, plus listing prices could go down...not to mention future ones effected.
So Irvine's tax base and revenue model could take a significant hit.
The question of litigation is a possibility, the theory of INFORMED CONSENT kicks in.
GOOGLE it, looks to me that ANY of these BROWNFIELDS, sometimes referred to as Superfund/CERCLA rehab and redevelopment, are skirting the edge of compliance if realtors, their brokerages and clients (whether sellers or purchasers) might not be fully informed enough to waive about short, mid and long term impacts, that is their future rights. How can you assess what you don't know much about?
If your own state and federal government low balls contamination impacts and timelines, then under what conditions can you sign such disclaimers and hold ANYONE in the land/edifice acquisition process harmless in perpetuity?
TCE acceptable levels have been lowered as long term scientific studies revealed more. They're down to 5 parts per billion (5ppb) presently, but that could drop.
Hangar 296 @ Hell Toro tested at 4800 ppb in 2002 according to CDMs report to Orange County Water District. Mountain View/Moffett Field @ over 100,000 ppb back in the 90s and the vapors intrusion levels are still literally "through the roof."
It would be interesting to challenge the real estate boards around these CERCLA sites, demand that they fully divulge and NOT be allowed to shove such waivers at ignorant prospective buyers.
Right now, it's definitely BUYER BEWARE, and last who is going to pay the attorneys to provide advise? Would ANY attorney advise his/her client to literally sign away their families health and lives?
What about medical insurers and health care underwriters? If you were an insurance agency would YOU insure people sitting over toxic/hazardous waste dumps?

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.