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Residents Skeptical About Their Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set up a model to demonstrate how it extracts and cleans contaminated groundwater. Water at a Superfund site in the South Valley is undergoing this type of treatment. (Elaine D. BriseÑo/Journal)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set up a model to demonstrate how it extracts and cleans contaminated groundwater. Water at a Superfund site in the South Valley is undergoing this type of treatment. (Elaine D. BriseÑo/Journal)
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Residents near a contaminated Superfund site in the South Valley expressed skepticism that their water would ever be clean enough to drink and asked for a guarantee that owners would not sell the property to “another dirty industry.”

The site is located on Woodward SE, near Broadway, and the contamination was caused by industrial uses, most recently by General Electric and Univar. GE closed its plant in 2010, but Univar, a chemical distributor, still operates a business there. Groundwater contamination was discovered in 1978 after a routine test of nearby wells. As a result, 20 private and two municipal wells were closed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1983 placed the site on its National Priorities List, meaning it would be monitoring cleanup efforts there.

Thursday, the EPA, along with representatives from GE and Univar, held an open house at the National Hispanic Cultural Center to update residents in the nearby San Jose and Mountain View neighborhoods about the progress of the cleanup.

The cleanup is about five years away from completion, which would mean residents could once again drink groundwater from that area.

However, Esther Abeyta, president of the San Jose Neighborhood Association, told Michael Herbert, the EPA’s remedial project manager for the South Valley site, that she was skeptical the water would be clean enough to drink.

“Will you make sure it’s clean?” she said. “I know you have acceptable levels of contaminants but for us, it’s not acceptable.”

Longtime San Jose resident Olivia M. Price asked if anyone had become sick drinking contaminated water.

“How much water did we drink before we found out it was contaminated?” she asked. “How long were we drinking that water?”

Herbert said because safe drinking water standards require testing on a quarterly basis, the contamination was probably detected not long after it happened.

“The contamination was barely above drinking water standards when it was discovered,” he said.

Abeyta said she was glad the cleanup efforts were almost complete but worried about the future. GE plans to sell its property. Abeyta said she wants GE to put restrictions of uses new owners can have.

“I’m afraid of what could be built on that space,” she told GE representative Oscar Lackey. “I want you to say to us right now that you will protect us from another dirty industry. Can you do that for us?”

Lackey did not agree.

“I can make you no promises about the property,” he said.

His response angered some attendees, who accused him and other officials of not caring because they do not live nearby. After the question-and-answer session, attendees got a chance to look at materials outlining the cleanup efforts so far, which include extraction and treatment of contaminated ground water, removal of contaminated soil and debris to prevent future contamination and installation of new wells. Univar and GE are responsible for the cleanup and the EPA is overseeing the process.

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