EPA Reluctantly Agrees to Further Testing of the Superfund Site

imageCity of Davis

The city-county two by two met on Friday at the Davis County Offices for the Board of Supervisors. The two by two is comprised of two members of the Davis City Council, Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor, and two members of the County Board of Superivisors, the two Davis representatives, Helen Thomson and Jim Provenza.

One item that was discussed was the issue of the Frontier Chemical Superfund Site and the recent discovery of TCP that has been covered extensively not only on this blog but in this community.
The EPA had been reluctant to do more testing and take additional steps. According to Pam Nieberg, President of the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group, the EPA official had not taken the latest discovery of TCP seriously. This contradicted what City Staffer Mike Webb told the group, that he was confident that the EPA was taking this matter seriously.

However, after community pressure, the EPA agreed to do more testing to determine the source and extent of the contamination.

In a January 15, 2009 letter to Congressman Mike Thompson, the EPA wrote:

“Our analysis of these data indicates the TCP is limited to a small area to the east of the Target building, and at concentrations which do not present a current health risk to the community or Target workers. Nonetheless, to address community concerns, EPA is adding additional sample locations to our current workplan to further investigate TCP in this area. Further, while EPA has been asked by several residents to delay the construction of the Target store while we complete out TCP investigation in this area, we believe the investigation can take place around the Taget development, as the proposed Target building footprint location does not have TCP groundwater or vapor contamination.”

Supervisor Jim Provenza however, flatly disagreed with that assessment stating that he thought Target was taking a risk by building the store before the EPA completed its investigation.

While he said it does not presently appear that the TCP is an immediate threat to the public health, he was concerned that chemicals like TCP tend to move. If it migrates under the Target store or to nearby homes, it could vaporize inside the buildings and pose a cancer risk with prolonged exposure.

Jim Provenza further said it was vital that the county and city insure that EPA did not walk away from the site prematurely. Neither the city, county, or state have the resources to do toxic clean up.

Meanwhile the city and county played an interesting game of “hot potato” with the issue. Jeff Pinnow from Environmental Health basically blamed the city for failing to forward enough documents to the county. The city apparently suddenly expressed the desire to have a liaison to the FFSOG, something they had attended sporadically in the past.

Mike Webb told the group:

“We’re satisfied the EPA is taking this seriously.”

According to members of the FFSOG, Mr. Webb never spoke to their group about the matter, only the EPA.

Pam Nieberg disputed some of the contentions by the EPA in their letter to Mike Thompson.

First, the EPA suggested that the TCP was not a threat to the public’s drinking water. According to Pam Nieberg, that was never the group’s concern.

“We were never concerned that someone was going to drink that water or that the TCP could get into our wells but that it was an issue of the volatility and carcogenicity of TCP.”

Furthermore, the EPA say that the detection levels of TCP were very low.

“Their own toxocologist did the calculations and confirmed that the levels put them into the cancer risk range for anyone exposed to the vapors to long periods of time–like in a home.”

Despite the fact that the EPA was surprised by these findings and had no idea where the higher levels were coming from, the EPA was never going to do anything about this except for the consistent pressure from the public.

The city council will have a full report on this matter during the Tuesday City Council Meeting. It was placed on the agenda as a consent item and an informational item, however, it will apparently be pulled from consent and discussed.

Basically, the city is going to attend FFSOG meetings and get updates. The EPA has reluctantly agreed to do more testing.

Meanwhile Target has not poured the foundation as of yet. They are expected to do it next month according to a single-sentence in the Sacramento Bee Article.

“City planners said Friday that the store’s concrete slab would be poured next month.”

Remember in December, the response from Target was that if they did not pour the foundation by January 5, 2009, it was going to delay the opening. That was one of the reasons that Target could not do any testing. You can go back and look at the previous comments on the subject and all the Target supporters were up in arms about this.

Guess what folks, Target has not poured the foundation yet. It has nothing to do with this issue. They just have not poured the foundation yet. Anyone believe that the store opening will be delayed? I sure do not. It does not take that long to build a store once you are faced with a deadline. The argument was a canard. They could wait for the EPA to complete their tests. They just do not want to. The EPA could have been almost done with their tests by now had they started in November when they found out about this.

As I have said before, this really has nothing to do with Target other than the issue of the health and safety of their workers who might be exposed to fumes from the TCP over time. The bigger concern is determining where the TCP is and whether it represents a threat to those living in Mace Ranch.

It was refreshing to see how little communication goes on between different agencies, particularly the city of Davis, the EPA, and the Yolo County Health Department. Jeff Pinnow admitted they were out of the loop, so too did Mike Webb.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 Comments

  1. Concerned Target Proponent

    …Jeff Pinnow admitted they were out of the loop, so too did Mike Webb….No one kept them out of the loop, they just chose to remain uninformed. Kudos goes to Pam Nieberg and FFSOG for keeping this issue center stage, until the right thing was done. I am a strong Target proponent, but believe Target should delay until the EPA has done further testing. In my opinion, homes should never have been built so near this site until it was fully cleaned up and certified nontoxic. Since the that horse is already been let out of the barn, it is important that no further damage is done by ignoring the possibility that TCP is spreading towards homes or may leach into the Target store. Target needs to do the responsible thing, and delay until the EPA fully checks the issue out as it should have done in the first place. Don’t you just love to see our taxdollars at work – w gov’t officials just ignoring the public welfare as they sit and …earn… their salaries?

  2. Rich Rifkin

    …it is important that no further damage is done by ignoring the possibility that TCP is spreading towards homes or may leach into the Target store….Correct me if I am wrong, but it is my understanding that, with the vapor barrier, there is no reasonable likelihood that the toxins will ever …leach into the Target store….

  3. Anonymous

    Vapor barrier, whooee, gotta love modern technology. Won’t catch me shoppin’ at no Target, nohow, no way…go in lookin’ like me come out a’wheezin’ and cryin’ tryin’ t’ catch my breath, my skin whiter’n an albino’s. They sure don’t make cement slabs like they used to.

  4. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie

    Yes, thank goodness they are protecting the Target shoppers and employees. Who cares about venting toxins out to those pesky neighbors. They deserve it anyway!

  5. Pam Nieberg

    Rich:Target is using a moisture barrier, not one specifically to prevent movement of vapors of VOCs into the building. I talked to EPA’s toxicologist about this. They are not requiring them to upgrade the barrier because the barriers …always tear anyway and are difficult to seal around underground structures…. The system Target is installing will result in a relative vacuum under the slab and barrier due to positive pressure in the store from air circulation equipment. So, vapors should not enter the store under this passive system, but they can, which is why there is also a piping and venting system to carry any vapors from under the store into the pipes, through the walls and out to the atmosphere.If air monitoring in the store and at sample ports shows TCP to be present in the future, Target will be required to utilize a treatment system to detoxify the TCP before it is vented out of the building and to investigate and clean it up from under the building, if levels are high enough to endanger workers in the store.However, the major concern here is not what happens in Target, but what happens if the TCP travels in the groundwater to the homes north of the site and endangers the neighborhood.

  6. Much ado about nothing?

    Pam Nieburg said …However, the major concern here is not what happens in Target, but what happens if the TCP travels in the groundwater to the homes north of the site and endangers the neighborhood….So, I’m not sure I understand all the concern for target building on the site…if the plume begins to migrate, then can’t they treat it as it moves? How does more testing under the target site tell them where it is moving to?

  7. Pam Nieberg

    It is not a question of if the TCP migrates, it will move in the groundwater, and the groundwater moves. Part of the problem is that this detection is beyond the previously known easternmost extent f contaminants in the groundwater, so it may be beyond the influence of the current pump and treat system. If that is so, and that is likely, then it is not being controlled by the P and T system and can move where ever the groundwater takes it. It is not being contained and will not be treated by the current system. Another problem is that the area where it was found is a sort of divide where groundwater moves in either direction. Groundwater out there generally moves toward the north east, but the pump and treat system pulls water back toward the source where the treatment system is. If the area of the new detect is under the influence of the P and T system, it will be pulled under the Target footprint back to the south west where the source is. If it is not under that influence, it will move toward the homes toward the north and EPA has to then expand the treatment system to pull it back and treat it.So, TArget pouring the slab interfers with easy access for more testing to determine which way the TCP is moving, its source and its extent. However, since EPA can do that needed testing any time it wants, whether or not Target starts construction, Target can go ahead with construction, but they are gambling that EPA will not find anything that would require major testing and clean-up. If that were to happen, TArget may even have to shut down for a while.

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