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State begins effort to clean up toxic 'Delano Plume'

Delano Plume

Department of Toxic Substances Control geologist Ryan Mitchum displays the cap to an underground well that will help remove Tetrachloroethylene from the ground underneath downtown Delano on Wednesday.

DELANO — More than a decade after elevated levels of a cancer-causing chemical were found in downtown Delano, residents now believe a solution has been reached.

On Wednesday, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control showed off new construction that is meant to filter the toxic chemical Tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, from beneath buildings near Main Street in Delano.

In 2008, a groundwater test of a nearby Chevron station revealed the presence of PCE in the soil. The state allows for a maximum PCE level of five parts per billion. The level found in the groundwater test was 440 parts per billion, according to DTSC.

“After years of many meetings, we are finally here today,” said Maria Martinez, sergeant at arms of the Delano Guardians, a community group that has advocated for action on the contamination. “This is very important for our health, for the community, for the environment. Many of us have already become sick from exposure to the chemicals in the environment.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says chronic exposure to PCE impairs both brain and body functionality, and is associated with several types of cancer, including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Known as the Delano Plume, PCE from the ground seeped into the more than a dozen buildings near Main Street and mixed with the air indoors, according to a DTSC investigation. The chemical is frequently used in dry cleaning, and DTSC determined three area dry cleaners — Oasis Cleaners, Oak Lane Cleaners and the former National Cleaners — were likely sources.

The state agency has now begun constructing an underground system of wells and piping that is meant to seep the chemical from the ground, and remove the contamination from the air. The department has already spent $2 million and could spend up to $1 million more to clean up the area.

“We know there’s a problem here,” said DTSC Supervising Hazardous Substance Engineer Joseph Tapia. “It needs to be taken care of. This is what this is all about.”

On Wednesday, local residents celebrated the construction project, which they said only happened due to public pressure exerted on the state.

“After years of community pressure to hold the state agency accountable, we finally see this cleanup start,” said Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio. “This was not the result of any one person. It was the result of numerous Delano community members coming together to demand justice because when we fight, we win.”

Still, Tapia claimed DTSC investigations and action plans take many years to investigate and develop.

Detoxification of the Delano site is expected to begin by the end of the year, after the underground system of wells has been connected to soil vapor extractors.

“Today is a good day for residents and businesses in Delano, and this remediation is so overdue,” said Ingrid Brostrom, assistant director for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which helped advocate for state action. “But we need to remain vigilant to make sure that progress continues. PCE poses an ongoing risk to Delano. We call on DTSC to prioritize further investigation to find and remediate all areas impacted by soil contamination and immediately begin clean-up of the groundwater.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.