- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Hundreds of companies have agreed to spend around $78 million on cleaning up groundwater contaminated by toxic chemicals from a Southern California Superfund site, it was announced Wednesday.

The consent decree, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, is the latest settlement by companies that between 1976 and 1991 sent tons of hazardous chemicals to the Omega Chemical Corp. site in Whittier or operated the treatment and disposal facility in the eastern Los Angeles suburb.

Soil at the site and water underneath it were found to be tainted with Freon, trichloroethylene and other solvents and refrigerants - some of which have been linked to cancer or other health problems - and the site was declared a Superfund in 1999.

The site is close to schools and homes. The cities of Whittier, Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk use the local aquifer as a source for their drinking supplies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that most drinking water wells in the area haven’t been contaminated, but a handful are being treated to ensure the water meets state and federal standards.

However, a plume of contaminated water stretches 4.5 miles south of the plant.

Under the consent decree, a group of 66 companies and other entities agreed to settle regulatory complaints by installing a new system to extract and treat contaminated groundwater outside of the Superfund site. Another 171 companies agreed to fund a portion of the work, which is estimated to cost around $70 million.

Construction could begin in 2018 and take several years.

An existing treatment system covering the site itself has handled millions of gallons of water.

“At this time, based on extensive investigation, EPA believes the site is not impacting drinking water in the area. The cleanup actions that are part of this settlement are intended to prevent future impacts to the drinking water supplies in Southern California,” said John Lyons, acting assistant director of the Superfund division for the EPA’s Region 9.

“Our current drought has underscored the importance of protecting California’s groundwater resources,” said Barbara A. Lee, director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The companies also agreed to reimburse state and federal regulators for about $8 million they already spent cleaning up contamination at the site. About 3,000 drums of hazardous waste and tons of soil have been removed.

The decree includes huge corporations such as Alcoa, Boeing, Dow, Disney and Mattel and other entities, including Los Angeles County and California’s Department of Transportation.

Under the decree, they do not admit any liability and don’t acknowledge that the release of hazardous chemicals is an “imminent and substantial” danger to public health or the environment.

The consent decree still requires a public comment period and court approval.

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