Utility company to replace contaminated equipment, pay fine

LOS ANGELES—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement valued at more than $920,000 with the Imperial Irrigation District for its improper disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at a former electricity substation. The District must spend $543,000 to replace equipment currently containing PCBs and perform an audit of 9 inactive substations. The District, the sixth largest utility in California, providing electric power to more than 145,000 customers in the Imperial Valley and parts of Riverside County, will also pay a $379,000 civil penalty.

“Our goal is to protect public health and the environment from the risks of PCBs,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Today’s settlement means Imperial Irrigation District will be taking steps to counter the impacts of its legacy PCB contamination in several local communities.”

As part of today’s action, the District must hire an independent auditor to conduct audits of 9 inactive electricity substations located in Brawley, Calexico, Indio, Mecca, and El Centro. The audit will examine all PCB-containing equipment and conduct soil sampling at the properties. Any soil contamination in violation of TSCA discovered during the audit will be cleaned up and any remaining PCB-containing equipment will be removed. The deadline for completion of the audits is 17 months after EPA’s approval of the auditor.

The District is also required to replace 16 regulators, three transformers and three circuit breakers with non-PCB containing equipment at active facilities located throughout its service area. This project must be completed within a year.

The settlement resolves violations of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) at the Rio Vista Electricity Substation, which the District operated from 1957 until 2002. The substation, located on West River Drive in Brawley, Calif., was adjacent to the Phil D. Swing Elementary School, the largest elementary school in the city. In February 2002, the District closed the facility and removed all PCB electrical equipment. In 2011, an environmental assessment of the facility by the company discovered that old electrical equipment had leaked PCBs into the soil and testing found PCB concentrations as high as 363 parts per million (ppm), greater than the federal limit of 50 ppm and a violation of TSCA. As a result, the District, under EPA’s supervision, removed and properly disposed of 10,000 pounds of PCB-contaminated dirt.

PCBs are man-made organic chemicals used in paints, industrial equipment, plastics, and cooling oil for electrical transformers. More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States before the EPA banned the production of this chemical class in 1978. Acute PCB exposure can adversely affect the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems as well as liver function. Concerns about human health and the extensive presence and lengthy persistence of PCBs in the environment led Congress to enact the TSCA in 1976.

Imperial County is a predominately Hispanic county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Over the next two years EPA is committed to making a visible difference in communities like Imperial County by reducing pollution and improving indoor air quality to improve the health and environment for local residents.

For more information on PCB regulation and enforcement, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region09/toxic/pcb/

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