Town Square

Cancer spike found near Superfund site

Original post made on Oct 11, 2012

A study released Monday finds a historical increase in cancer among residents of northeastern Mountain View, where a large plume of TCE has contaminated the soil and groundwater for decades.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 11, 2012, 11:30 AM


Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm

These companies are still in business. Why can't the government force them to clean up the pollution? Obama made BP clean up the gulf oil spill. How is this any different?

Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Does the registry only include people living in that area? What about people that work there every day, but live elsewhere? I know someone that works there that had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Probably a much bigger risk for residents since homes typically have poorer ventilation than businesses. More importantly, residents often live in the same house for decades, especially kids who grow up in the area.

Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Everybody knows that second-hand cigarette smoke is the ONLY environmental cause of cancer. Radioisotopes from Fukushima, TCE, diesel exhaust, dioxins, PCBs, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, GMO food, and Justin Bieber are just disinformation coming from the tobacco lobby and their addicted customers.

Posted by Lenny Siegel
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm

EPA IS requiring private and public polluters to conduct cleanup. A large amount of money has been spent, but given the size of the TCE plume and the nature of the hydrogeology, it will not be adequately remediated in our lifetimes.

Of all the homes sampled near the plume, only Jane's house had indoor "vapor intrusion." At nearby Whisman Station, only one home had vapor intrusion. Among the modern office buildings, only one had vapor intrusion, and that has been fixed.

In some ways Mountain View leads the nation in responding to the threat of TCE pollution. I won't say that there is no increased risk, but as far as we know very few people have been exposed to significant levels of that contaminant here.

Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Are the companies really cleaning up the problem or just hiding it? What percentage of the spilled chemicals are still in the ground? How long has this problem existed? 50 years? If they really wanted to clean it up, I bet they could have done 10 times better than what they have done so far, for an increased price, of course. The bottom line is money, not health and safety.

What was the demographic makeup of the homes near the toxic waste site over the years? Mostly people that the corporations considered to be expendable?

Posted by Jeff
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Lenny Siegel has accurately stated several key facts.

The remediation efforts for the Superfund site(s) in the MEW area were and are varied. In the case of the former Raytheon site (then at 350 Ellis) a trench over 100 feet deep encircled the entire property and was filled with a clay mixture to seal it, then water was pumped through the subsurface within the wall and extracted, with the contaminant being captured for disposal. It took millions of gallons of water extraction to get a barrel of TCE. At another site soils were excavated and piled, then turned over frequently to encourage evaporation of the contaminant.

No one knows "how much" or "when." The subsurface hydrogeology is quite varied with no continuous aquifers and nothing moves very quickly. The Raytheon approach was explained as the way to prevent any migration of TCE onto or off of the site. The cleaning timeframe was expected to be decades. The plumes from MEW facilities merged and moved towards Moffett, which has its own large underground TCE plume.

The sad fact is that TCE was once called "the safety solvent" and was widely used for dry cleaning as well as an industrial cleaner. At Moffett Field it was used to wash down aircraft and let run onto the ground. Some evaporated and some soaked down.

I was involved in this activity at the time, including multi-company liaison with the EPA, and I believe that the corporations concerned were quite sincere about wanting to remediate properly. The expectation was to do it right and be done with it. The EPA signed off on the plans and holds the companies accountable. Superfund status was assigned to the MEW as leverage by the EPA, even though the original three companies (Fairchild, Raytheon, Intel) were cooperative. Contrary to the knee-jerk accusations of one reader, the companies have no real choice about it; it is not money that determines the outcome, but the EPA.

That was in the mid-1980s. Since then several other EPA site cleanups have been active in the area, including the extensive Moffett plume. If anything has changed, it is that today's technical capabilities are obviously much advanced. One hopes for the day when we can reliably find definitive answers to scary phenomena such as cancer clusters, and control or avoid their causes.

Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Mid-1980s EPA = Ronald Reagan, right?

Remember the "Sewergate" scandal when Reagan appointees stole Superfund cleanup money? I recall that Reagan's EPA director served felony prison time for that one. 30 years later, we are still living with the effects of the Reagan Administration. I just hope the Mountain View toxic spills can be cleaned up permanently before more people are killed by cancer.

If this problem is so hard to solve, why don't the polluters just buy residents comparable homes in neighboring cities? Wall off the property while it is being cleaned up and don't let anyone work or live there until the land is proven safe.

Posted by Andrea Gemmet
Mountain View Voice Editor
on Oct 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

This comment was moved from a duplicate thread, which has now been closed:

Add one more you your list. I live in that area and have most of my life, and in 2009 was diagnosed with "Large B-cell type Lymphoma". Fortunately I was able to beat it down with 8 sessions of Chemo.
by Steve Oct 12, 2012 at 11:45 am

Posted by Mr. Big
a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm

The fact that the EPA didn't require continual air testing of homes and local air both during and after the use of the air stripper method, which made exposure worse, is simply an environmental travesty.

They didn't test or track the health of the area's residents because they didn't want proof of the results of releasing the toxic TCE into the air. Having this proof would expose the EPA to lawsuits for the reckless method of extracting the TCE plume from the ground water.

Which method do you think was least costly: Air strippers or building a giant 100 ft. moat around the entire plume and disposing of all the contaminated water and earth?

Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

"Probably a much bigger risk for residents..."

My friend with non-Hodkins lymphoma might disagree - it seems his risk was 100%. And he did work there for years and years - still does.

Posted by Damn
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm

When they built these houses, a coworker at the environmental firm we worked at brought over the map of the TCE plume. I'll never forget him saying "Jeezus, can they build on that? Its a death zone"
I guess it was just a matter of time. Terrible. Absolutely terrible, and all in the name of $ for the developer.

Posted by Lenny Siegel
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Anyone wanting to learn more or get involved in the oversight of the plume cleanup can contact me at [email protected] You can read my history of the site at Web Link

A great deal of contamination has been removed:

"The Moffett-MEW Regional Plume is one of the nation’s larger, more complex
groundwater remediation projects. The plume is about two miles long and nearly a half-
mile wide. TCE, its breakdown products, and other contaminants are primarily found in
the upper three aquifers, with only localized breakthrough identified in the C aquifer that
serves as a drinking water supply. When measured in 1982, maximum TCE
concentrations reached 1,000,000 parts per billion (ppb) south of Highway 101 and
110,00 ppb at Moffett Field.

"With minor exceptions, the regional extraction system has worked well.
Approximately 100 extraction wells removed over 4.5 billion gallons of groundwater
through 2009. Nearly 100,000 pounds of volatile organic compounds, led by TCE, have
been removed. Water levels are sampled semi-annually in nearly 1000 monitoring wells,
and contaminant concentrations are measured annually in about 500 wells. By 2009, the
average TCE concentration had fallen 90%, with the maximum down to 40,000 ppb south
of 101 and 4,700 ppb at Moffett."

But we community activists are arguing for the implementation of new technologies to accelerate remediation as the old technology loses its impact. Mountain View is a test case, nationally, for this approach.

Posted by Uh-Oh
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 13, 2012 at 6:42 am

I think this is the tip of the iceberg. Who built the homes there and who approved the permits?

Posted by huh?
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Oct 13, 2012 at 6:59 am

Give the land to Google to build all over it. And throw in Hanger One.

Posted by Nathan Speed
a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm

The actual study referenced can be found here: Web Link

I live in one of the studied census tracts with my wife and newborn son, just a couple blocks from the MEW site. We didn't realize that we lived to close to an EPA cleanup site.

I was wondering if the incidences of cancer were more concentrated inside the EPA cleanup site compared to nearby areas. If so, I would feel safer knowing that we don't actually live on the EPA cleanup site. From the study, it seems the answer is, "No." "The increased rate of non-Hodgkin lymphoma was not driven by one of the census tracts and thus, we refer to the three census tracts collectively as the neighborhood of interest." (pg. 5)

How can I find out more about the potential danger to my family?

Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 14, 2012 at 7:40 am

As long as none of your neighbors smoke cigarettes, you should be fine. Unless a cigarette smoker walks by you on the street. Then, all bets are off.

Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 14, 2012 at 7:41 am

Also: plastic grocery bags and drive-through food joints. Watch out for them.

Posted by MV Mama
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I thought the fact that this was a superfund site was common knowledge? I remember when Whisman Station was being built and a friend in real estate commented on the fact that people were buying time bombs.

I think it would also be interesting to look at miscarriage rates in the area. I have many friends who live in that area, almost all of them have had at least one miscarriage.

Posted by sam
a resident of Castro City
on Oct 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Want to build homes over a superfund site? A ok!! Want to build a Chik Fil A? NO WAY!

Wow Mountain View, just wow.

Posted by wendy
a resident of Castro City
on Oct 16, 2012 at 8:27 pm

People who purchased in that community knew about the risks when they purchased the property. They did not care, they are not entitled to new homes.

Posted by Tim King
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 28, 2013 at 10:19 am

Lenny Seigel has a history of offering convenient answers for TCE contamination, (Web Link he says the TCE plume from the old El Toro Marine base in Irvine drops 200 feet just before reaching the first neighborhood in its path, many of us who have studied the issue question that. This new article ties Mountain View and El Toro together, (Web Link

Posted by Ms Los Altos
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm

As a former employee of Fairchild and a former employee of 3 companies residing on Shoreline Blvd or 20 yrs, I would like to know where you report if you have cancer? I was recently diagnosed with vulvar cancer.

Posted by one to many
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 13, 2014 at 5:16 am

Lived and worked here since the mid -80's, many friends, correction most friends in the area have passed to one of the cancers, the worst over by the westinghouse disater area, they wont ever sell that one off for condos. But dammit if they havent jammed every other open squre foot of land with them. Been using bottled water to drink for years, after seeing that slurry wall undergound hell on the site map a couple blocks or so from where I live and it being adjecent to the hechhechy, well I'm making my ice with bottled as well! I wont even mention the black slime that we clean from just about every surface daily, dont even want to know what were breathing there, just glad I dont live on the ground floor as I dont think I could survive plume gas clouds as well.

Posted by Concernd
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 25, 2014 at 2:55 pm


What are my obligations in terms of disclosure to current and future tenants?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 25, 2014 at 3:10 pm

The title check when you buy a house lists Superfund sites in the neighborhood. Mine did when I bought last year. The seller and buyer both have to sign off on this title document.

It's a damn shame we don't have the technology to clean this up any faster. As the concentration drops, the ground water based filtering also slows down.

Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:21 am

Sparty is a registered user.

Since none of you bothered to read the actual study...other than 1 person...

"Thus, there is a lack of evidence of a consistent
or current elevation in non-Hodgkin lymphoma occurr
ence in this neighborhood."

Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:23 am

Sparty is a registered user.

"Posted by sam, a resident of Castro City
on Oct 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Want to build homes over a superfund site? A ok!! Want to build a Chik Fil A? NO WAY!

Wow Mountain View, just wow."

Wait...the people on the city council in 2012 were the same ones who approved those houses being built 20,30+ years ago? Jeez we need term limits

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a resident of The Crossings

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