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Toxic-Groundwater Cleanup Required of Unisys

Former Mission Viejo computer parts manufacturer Unisys has been ordered by the California water quality agency to clean up its site next to Target on Jeronimo. The agency found some toxic solvents in concentrations as much as 145 times the legal limit.

Unisys must clean its former Mission Viejo site of toxic chemicals in the groundwater, according to a mandate issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board this month.

The control board found various solvents contaminating the groundwater beneath the facility, which is next to the Target store on Jeronimo. One of those toxic chemicals, 1,1-DCE, was found at 145 times the legal amount for California groundwater. Other toxins contaminating the groundwater include the solvents TCE and DCA, as well as selenium, a salt that is toxic in large amounts.

The contamination could have come from computer manufacturing taking place at the facility during the 1970s, said John Odermatt, senior engineering geologist for the water quality board.

He said Unisys likely used the toxic solvents for cleaning factory parts. He said the solvents were stored at the facility, where pipes ran the chemicals to storage tanks.

"Sometimes they leaked," Odermatt said.

The groundwater review was triggered when property owner MV Universal sought to sell the property in 2010.

Now Unisys, which moved from the Mission Viejo location to Irvine earlier this year, is responsible for the cleanup.

"Since Unisys occupied it and they did a bunch of plating operations and stored some hazardous materials, they’re still on the hook for the cleanup,” Odermatt said. Here the engineer is referring to copper plating.

A phone message left with Unisys media contact Jim Kerr Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.

The water quality board expects the cleanup to take four to six months. Because the soil is tight, Unisys plans to hire a team of "dischargers" to heat the rock, soil and water on the property to drive off the volatile compounds, Odermatt said. Then they will use a vacuum system to suck out the resulting vapors.

Every three months, the company is required to report back to the state board.

Should residents take precautions?

“At this point there don’t seem to be any drinking water wells within close proximity of the facility," Odermatt said. "The only people possibly impacted are former employees. That seems unlikely too.”

A copy of the board's report is available here.

Oliver Yu May 27, 2011 at 05:22 PM
This is pretty interesting. I was unaware that you could clean the groundwater after it has been contaminated. Then again, I only did take one geology class in college.
Peter Schelden (Editor) May 27, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Yes, there are different methods. If you're curious to learn more, check out what they're doing in San Juan Capistrano to clean MTBE that resulted from a gas leak there.
george gregory May 28, 2011 at 05:57 PM
mtbe is that the stinky stuff to oderize ng ?
Peter Schelden (Editor) May 31, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Yeah George, they say small amounts of the stuff make water taste and smell like turpentine.
nambi February 27, 2013 at 12:08 AM
regarding the cleanup, I am not able to find more details on this, even on the state water board site. Also, I do see that UNISYS site is going to be developed as a RV Parking space for now. What happened to the contamination cleanup?

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