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Report: Underground leak sites go unmonitored in California

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POSTED November 24, 2013 8:19 p.m.

SANTA ANA (AP) — A new report says hundreds of underground leak sites will go unmonitored by the state under a policy change.

Since the 1980s, more than 44,000 underground fuel tank leaks have been tallied in California. A change that went into effect last year allows some of these sites to end regulatory monitoring even though trace contamination exists, the Orange County Register reported.

The state has defended the policy, saying that there’s no threat to human health because gasoline contaminants will naturally degrade and won’t reach groundwater supplies. State officials also said their focus is on cleaning up the worst underground petroleum storage tank leaks.

“There’s a lot of money that is being spent on low-threat sites. The board wants to stop spending money on the low-threat sites so that we can start spending money on the high-threat sites,” Kevin Graves, who heads the cleanup program at the California State Water Resources Control Board, told the newspaper.

But some scientists and local water agencies have protested the new standard, saying that it allows gas station owners and oil companies to walk away from their responsibilities.

The Orange County Water District, which serves about 2 million residents, is among those concerned. The district has a pending lawsuit against more than a dozen gas companies.

“When you take away the monitoring wells from these sites, then we really are left with no information to tell where the plumes have moved. Now these sites are being closed with contamination in the groundwater presumably with the thought that they will attenuate by themselves without monitoring and that is certainly a concern to the water district,” said Roy Herndon, chief hydrogeologist at the Orange County Water District.

Since 2012, when the new standard went into effect, state and local regulators determined that more than 500 cases won’t have to undergo monitoring or sampling because they were considered “low threat.” Records show another 1,700 cases may also be eligible to go unmonitored, the Register reported.

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