Thursday, August 03, 2006

MV cleanup costs likely to rise

Fairchild can stop telling Jane Horton that her son has nothing to worry about.

Five years ago, under heavy pressure from the Pentagon and manufacturing companies like Fairchild, the Bush administration ordered the National Academy of Sciences to review a new finding by the EPA that a chemical solvent known as TCE was 70 times more likely to cause cancer than previously thought. At the time, the move helped polluters keep their cleanup costs down while frustrating those who lived on or near Superfund sites contaminated with the solvent.

The National Academy released its report last week, and the conclusion vindicates the EPA gives the agency the go-ahead to finalize its earlier finding. What this means in terms of real consequences for Mountain View's eight Superfund sites is unclear. Locally, the EPA has always tested for the provisional standard, and -- despite being powerless to compel polluters such as Fairchild Semiconductor, Raytheon and the Navy to factor it into their cleanup plans -- has generally received good cooperation from these parties.

The Navy's decision to reconsider a proposal to demolish Hangar One has earned most of the attention this week. But though this this story has gone largely unnoticed in the local press, it has much wider implications.

I wouldn't be surprised if the new standard is the nail in the coffin of the already embattled plan to demolish Moffett Field's Orion Park housing development and build a reserve training center on the contaminated land there. The Navy and EPA and semiconductor manufacturers appear to have made little progress towards determining responsibility for the cleanup.

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