Utility discovers PCB spill at old Modoc substation
“One sample came back positive for polychlorinated biphenyls at 26-parts-per-million,” Genter wrote. “The date of initial discharge and the amount of discharge are unknown. The site has been secured and additional investigation is occurring to determine the extent of the spill and contamination. Remediation plans will be developed from the investigation results.”
Genter said LMUD reported the spill to the county.
“I think it’s a fairly old spill,” Genter said, “that probably occurred during previous maintenance at the site.”
Genter said LMUD would hire a consultant to continue the investigation and determine what cleanup measures were required.
Paul Glau, LMUD’s facilities manager, said he didn’t expect the spill would be too large, but he added “anytime you’ve got PCBs in the soil, it’s a big deal.”
He said when the oil in the transformers currently at the site was tested, the PCBs only measured 2-parts-per-million, indicating the spill probably did not come from the oil in those transformers.
Glau said he thought the spill occurred at least 10 years ago and may be much older, but there’s no way to know at this point.
Genter and Glau both said there was no discoloration of the soil to indicate a recent spill.
While reporting a spill is mandatory today, Glau said he wasn’t sure about the reporting requirements in place at the time of the spill because he didn’t know when it occurred.
He hopes the contamination is limited to a small area near one of the concrete slabs that hold the transformers and that only a small amount of oil was spilled from a valve at the bottom of the transformers during a routine maintenance procedure.
“We’re working aggressively to find out how big the spill is and to get it cleaned up,” Glau said.
Last Wednesday, LMUD workers dug 24 holes on a 24-inch grid and took five surface samples in order to investigate how far the PCB plume has spread.
“PCBs are pretty stable in soil,” Glau said. “They usually don’t travel too far, and we hope the spill will be located right by the concrete slabs. We’ve tested the entire area, and hopefully we won’t find any more PCBs.”
While most of the holes for the soil samples were 24 inches deep, Glau said, one of the holes only went 18 inches deep because it had water in it, so LMUD took a water sample as well. Glau said he wasn’t sure where the water was coming from.
Glau said the substation was originally planned in 1952 and the Citizen’s Power Utility Company recorded an easement for the substation from the Lassen Box and Lumber Company in 1953. He thought the substation probably was built sometime in the mid-1950s.
According to Glau, it’s probably going to be nearly impossible to determine exactly when the spill occurred, but he said, “It’s our problem, and we have to clean it up.”
Glau said the soil samples collected last week were sent to a lab for analysis, and results may be available this week.
“We pushed it on a rush,” Glau said.
Once the contaminated area is determined, Glau said LMUD would collect the contaminated soil and send it off to be destroyed by incineration. Once the clean-up work is completed the site will be retested and certified as clean.
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