Dec 30, 2015

EPA Announces Settlement for Cleanup of Cooper Drum Superfund Site in California

Forty parties agree to $22 million settlement that will provide for groundwater treatment system

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice announced that a group of 40 parties have agreed to conduct the cleanup of the Cooper Drum site in South Gate, Calif., 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The settlement requires an estimated $15 million to construct the additional groundwater treatment system needed, including wells, piping and treatment costs, plus $7 million to reimburse EPA for its past cleanup actions at the Superfund site.

“Today’s settlement is a binding commitment to pursue the final cleanup of this former industrial site,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest for EPA. “Our goal is to protect the residents of South Gate from the toxic chemicals that have contaminated their local groundwater.”

Cooper Drum is a 3.8-acre site located in a commercial, industrial and residential area of South Gate. From 1974 until its closure in 1992, the Cooper Drum Co. reconditioned used steel drums from industrial customers, such as chemical manufacturers, chemical packagers and oil companies. The 55-gal steel drums, which contained residual oils and solvents, were washed and prepared for reuse. Residual waste from the drums, primarily volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE), spilled and leaked on the site, contaminating soil and groundwater. Cooper Drum was placed on Superfund’s National Priorities List in 2001.

Over the past 14 years, EPA has overseen the design, construction and operation of soil and groundwater treatment systems aimed at cleaning up TCE, lead, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) and petroleum hydrocarbons. The site’s soil vapor extraction system, which has been operating since 2011, has removed more than 742 lb of chemicals from affected soils. The groundwater extraction system has treated more than 17 million gal of contaminated groundwater since 2012. All water that is served to the residents and businesses in South Gate meets state and federal drinking water standards.

Drinking high levels of TCE may cause damage to the nervous system, liver and lungs. PCBs are known human carcinogens and may cause a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. Long-term exposure to lead can lead to kidney problems or high blood pressure.

Between 2001 and 2009, EPA’s cleanup activities at the Cooper Drum site relied on public funding. In 2009, agency investigators were able to identify former customers of the drum reconditioning business. Since then, the settling parties, known as the Cooper Drum Cooperating Parties Group, have funded the cleanup and worked cooperatively with EPA. This is the final phase of work for the site for known conditions, and implements the cleanup selected in the Record of Decision in September 2002.

The settlement, lodged in Federal District Court on Dec. 29, 2015, as a consent decree, will be posted in the Federal Register and available for public comment for a period of 30 days. The consent decree can be viewed on the Justice Department website at

Southern California’s I-710 freeway passes through 15 cities and unincorporated areas including South Gate, where the effects of pollution are disproportionately higher than in other areas of Los Angeles County. Approximately one million people, about 70% of whom are minority and low-income households, are impacted by industrial activities and goods movement in the area. In a multi-year effort, federal, state and local governments and nonprofit organizations are working together to improve the environmental and public health conditions for residents along this corridor.