Imperial Beach residents are used to decades of environmental degradation of the Tijuana River, estuary and Pacific Ocean from Mexico.
But a U.S. source is the target of an upcoming Navy cleanup.
Tons of soil contaminated since the 1950s at the southern border of Naval Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach will be removed within the next month, Navy officials said.
Multiple soil and groundwater samples dating back to 1986 detected substances including polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds and metals like lead, mercury and arsenic.
“We don’t feel like it can be left in place because of potential hazards that might be harmful if people come in contact with it,” said Chehreh Komeylyan of the California Water Resources Control Board, which will oversee the cleanup.
A meeting is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. today at City Hall for the public to learn more or comment on the soil removal project.
A meeting was originally planned Nov. 8 but was canceled due to scheduling conflicts, said Navy project manager Michael Pound.
Due to the cancellation, a public comment period that started last month has been extended to Nov. 18.
No comments have been received, Pound said.
Studies compiled by contractors for the Navy found substances in the area that could pose a risk to the health of local wildlife or Navy personnel.
Through direct contact with the soil or inhalation of dust particles, the substances could affect a person’s brain, liver, kidney, heart, stomach or lungs or the ability to produce red and white blood cells and combat disease.
Few people frequent the area, Pound said. The soil was not removed in the past due to necessary procedural hurdles and a lack of funding, he said.
“Basically the only people that are out there are people who need to drive by or mow the weeds, so there was no risk to human health,” Pound said Tuesday on the phone.
Studies also found that the contaminants could pose a health risk to people, plants and animals in the area either by dust particles being kicked up near helicopter landing pads or leaching into the river.
“Natural groundwater movement may cause contaminant migration via discharge to surface water of the Tijuana Slough and the Pacific Ocean,” says the removal action work plan.
“If not addressed by implementing the response action selected in this Action Memorandum, [the toxins] may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health, welfare or the environment.”
One groundwater sample taken in 1995 found concentrations of hydrocarbons and metals like chromium, copper, lead, mercury, silver and zinc in excess of Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Nearly 5,000 cubic yards of soil will be removed from two areas known as Site 6 and Site 7.
About an acre of land known as Site 6 was used as a firefighter training area from the 1950s to the late 1980s and later as an area to store rubble.
Large volumes of “combustible materials like diesel, JP-5, kerosene, shop wastes and transformer dielectric fluids were used in firefighter training exercises,” the 1986 initial assessment study said.
While the area was used as a firefighter training area for three decades, up to 1,200 gallons of hydrocarbons were deposited in a 5- to 6-foot-deep pit 25 feet in diameter three or four times a week.
Fires were ignited about once a month, the 1986 study said. The pit was later covered with fill material and used as a rubble disposal area.
About 10 acres of land also near the Tijuana River known as Site 7 was used as a skeet shooting range and rubble disposal area.
The soil removal project for sites 6 and 7 was not required by environmental regulators.
“They haven’t been told they need to clean up by December. It’s just a decision the Navy’s made,” Komeylyan said.
The biggest risk comes from being directly in contact with the soil, Komeylyan said.
“It’s more of a contact hazard,” she said. “That’s where our concern is in the future. If it becomes a residential area and someone comes into contact with the soil.”
Additional testing of soil and groundwater will take place after the soil is removed to confirm the cleanup was successful, Komeylyan said.
Two additional sites at NOLF IB are part of the Navy’s installation restoration program, but will likely not require removal of contaminated elements, Komeylyan said.
Written comments should be postmarked no later than Nov. 17 and mailed to Mr. Michael Pound, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest, Coastal IPT, 2730 McKean St., Bldg 291, San Diego, CA 92101. E-mailed comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.