A group of 40 parties agreed to conduct the cleanup of the Cooper Drum site in South Gate, 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, federal officials said.
The settlement, reached with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice, requires an estimated $15 million to construct the additional groundwater treatment system needed, including wells, piping and treatment costs, plus $7 million to reimburse EPA for its past cleanup actions at the Superfund site.
“Today’s settlement is a binding commitment to pursue the final cleanup of this former industrial site,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Our goal is to protect the residents of South Gate from the toxic chemicals that have contaminated their local groundwater.”
Cooper Drum is a 3.8 acre site located in a commercial, industrial and residential area of South Gate. From 1974 until its closure in 1992, the Cooper Drum Company reconditioned used steel drums from industrial customers, such as chemical manufacturers, chemical packagers and oil companies.
The 55 gallon steel drums, which contained residual oils and solvents, ended up washed and prepared for reuse. Residual wastes from the drums, primarily volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE), spilled and leaked on the site, contaminating soils and groundwater. Cooper Drum ended up on the Superfund’s National Priorities List in 2001.
Over the last 14 years, the EPA has overseen the design, construction and operation of soil and groundwater treatment systems aimed at cleaning up TCE, lead, PCBs and petroleum hydrocarbons. The site’s soil vapor extraction system, which has been operating since 2011, removed over 742 pounds of chemicals from affected soils. The groundwater extraction system has treated more than 17 million gallons of contaminated groundwater since 2012. All water served to the residents and businesses in South Gate meets state and federal drinking water standards.
Drinking high levels of TCE may cause damage to the nervous system, liver and lungs. PCBs are a human carcinogen and may cause a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. Long term exposure to lead can lead to kidney problems or high blood pressure.
Between 2001 and 2009, EPA’s cleanup activities at the Cooper Drum site relied on public funding. In 2009, agency investigators were able to identify former customers of the drum reconditioning business. Since then, the settling parties, known as the Cooper Drum Cooperating Parties Group, have funded the cleanup and worked cooperatively with EPA. This is the final phase of work for the site for known conditions, and implements the cleanup selected in the Record of Decision in September 2002.
The settlement, lodged in Federal District Court on December 29, 2015 as a consent decree.
Southern California’s I-710 freeway passes through 15 cities and unincorporated areas including South Gate, where the effects of pollution are disproportionately higher than in other areas of Los Angeles County. Approximately one million people, about 70 percent of whom are minority and low-income households, are severely impacted by industrial activities and goods movement in the area. In a multi-year effort, federal, state, and local governments and nonprofit organizations are working together to improve the environmental and public health conditions for residents along this corridor.