Well and bad

Scene of the slime.

Scene of the slime.

SN&R Photo By Ken Widmann

Last week, we heard from the former owner of Daiquiri, The Radioactive Beagle, a puppy saved from radiological experiments carried out on the UCD campus in the 1960s and ’70s. The soil where Daq’s less-fortunate colleagues were buried is one of Davis’ two Superfund sites. The other site has received considerable attention of late, because Target is set to build a much-debated superstore atop part of it.

From 1972 to 1983, two companies, the latter being Frontier Fertilizer, distributed pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer from a 4-acre site on Second Street near Mace Boulevard, about two-and-a-half miles east of downtown. Employees would load tanker trucks, drums and bins for transport with chemicals stored on-site in above-ground tanks. Sometimes the toxic residue from returning receptacles was rinsed into an unlined pit nearby; sometimes it was simply dumped on the ground. Either way was illegal. But at least they were rinsed! There’s nothing like a clean drum of carbon tetrachloride.

Such behavior continued until 1983, when an employee’s dog died suddenly on-site. An autopsy determined that the pooch had been poisoned by drinking water in the pit; further investigation revealed that the entire area was deeply contaminated, including a plume of groundwater between 30 and 130 feet underground and spreading more than 800 feet north.

This was troubling, not the least because Davis gets its water from an aquifer 180 feet below the site. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are four underground water-bearing zones below Frontier Fertilizer. Contaminants have been found in the top three, and “the potential for contamination from the Frontier Fertilizer site exists since all four water-bearing zones are connected.” Evian, anyone?

Anyway, cleanup began in 1992, and two years later, EPA declared the area a federal Superfund site. At this point, the contamination has been largely contained, but not much diminished, by a system of wells which continually remove tainted groundwater. It’s a treatment, not a cure, and various solutions have been proposed to reclaim the land, including one that involves heating the soil to around 100 degrees to cook off the bad stuff.

Open for public comment right now is the EPA’s agreement with Target, which calls for the company to relocate eight groundwater-monitoring wells from the footprint of the store. The agreement says the EPA will oversee the work.

The monitoring wells are critical because they indicate whether the eastern edge of the plume is migrating, which, among other things, could put the contaminants right under the Target store itself. Target has proposed drilling new wells and testing them for up to three months before shutting down the old ones, a sampling period that strikes Pam Nieberg, East Davis resident and executive director of the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group, as far too brief.

“Ideally, you would sample over a year, but they’re absolutely not going to do that,” she told me. “The next step [down] would be [sampling] periodically over a six-month period—during the winter and summer, so you get high-water level and low-water level data. And Target doesn’t even want to do that, they want to do it over like a two- or three-month period.”

Target, of course, would like to open next spring. No matter what happens with the wells, you might want to hold off on bringing your dog.