Toxic cleanup at a snail's pace | October 7, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - October 7, 2011

Toxic cleanup at a snail's pace

New technology ready to go, but is not being implemented

by Daniel DeBolt

Despite the existence of new, cheaper technologies that promise a much faster cleanup, polluters including Intel, Raytheon and Fairchild Semiconductor spend over $5 million a year to operate "pump and treat" systems in the northeastern portion of Mountain View, the EPA reports.

While the systems have removed over 91,000 pounds of TCE since the contaminant was discovered in 1981, the substantial plume that remains in the Middlefield Road, Ellis Road and Whisman Street area (MEW) is not expected to change appreciably in the next 10 years using pump and treat, the EPA said. The EPA is now studying alternatives, but a "draft feasibility study" is not expected until sometime next year and an actual plan may be years away.

"I often say it takes the EPA a month to screw in a light bulb," said Lenny Siegel, a Mountain View resident and expert on TCE cleanup who advises communities around the country on the best way to advocate for cleanup of toxic sites, However, Siegel and others stress the point that local EPA officials do a great job,

Some of the polluters have decided not to wait. Intel has conducted its own pilot study of "in-situ" technology that involves the use of microbes and emulsified oil to break down the TCE. The study, which began in 2005, found that "VOC removal cost 70 percent less with bioremediation." In a small test area in a parking lot on Middlefield Road, Intel's contractor has reported that it was able to remove 19.7 pounds of TCE a year, compared to 7.3 pounds a year removed with the pump and treat method.

It is not unusual for such "in situ" technologies to cost a fraction of pump and treat, said Dr. Jim Mueller, president of the Adventus Group, which manufactures, EHC, an in-situ treatment. The carbon and zero-valent iron product was recently shown to clean TCE from a 2,500-square-foot test site at Moffett Field in only two years. It required $57,000 worth of EHC, or 23,000 pounds, which was injected into numerous wells, but it can also be placed in a trench to create a permeable wall that treats groundwater as it moves.

EHC has been used to clean up a site about the size of the MEW plume in Kansas, and many others, Mueller said. The company has even drilled right through building floors to inject it into the ground.

But the challenge with using such technologies at the MEW is that buildings and businesses stand in the way of placing it in the ground, which may be an increasing problem as the MEW area has become prime real estate for tech companies. EPA project manager Alana Lee said Verisign blocked a proposal for in-situ treatment on an MEW property at one point because it would have interfered with its ongoing use of the property.

Google is set to move next year into a 447,000-square-foot campus called the Quad, which is over the MEW plume. Last week the developer and owner of the site, Keenan Lovewell, won approval of an expansion of the campus for Google, which may not be built for several years. It includes 181,000 square feet of office space and two parking garages.

Mueller said it may make sense to clean up a contaminated area where new buildings will go while it's still accessible.

"It strikes me that before you put up a new building, now seems to be the time to try to do something while you still have access to it," Mueller said.

Developer John Lovewell expressed an interest in cleaning up the site at last week's City Council meeting."If we could clean it up tomorrow, that would be great," he said.

But Lee said the EPA has not heard from Lovewell or Google and has not received a proposal for using new cleanup methods on the site.

"If Lovewell or any other developer says, "EPA, we would like you to clean up this property before we develop it,' I'm sure EPA would jump at the chance," Siegel said.

Google, which promised to be a good neighbor to Whisman residents at last week's council meeting, declined to comment on the issue.

Email Daniel DeBolt at