By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The state did not often go out in the field with Motorola consultants to check their work, says Montgomery. The state did not take its own samples to send to a lab other than Motorola's to make sure the lab data were accurate, he says.
Instead, the state allowed Motorola to collect, interpret and provide all the data.
That data formed the basis for some statistical health studies, which found no risk of health problems in the area. There are data-quality concerns," Montgomery says.
The state also let Motorola control the community meetings to inform neighborhoods of the contamination.
Despite warnings by Jim Lemmon, now a public-health lobbyist, and others that the plume was spreading rapidly, the state did not push Motorola to move quickly toward cleanup. ²The 1989 cleanup agreement cut between the state and Motorola was unusual in that it did not provide specific penalties for cleanup not accomplished, says Montgomery.
The language could have been stronger," he says.
New DEQ regulators themselves are now questioning the agreement. We are looking at changes," says John Godec, DEQ's spokesman.
Motorola can't understand what all the fuss is about. At the time, everyone negotiated in good faith and came up with an agreement that everybody could live with, says Lawrence Moore, Motorola spokesman.
Today, with its uncharted plume, the spreading waters of the aquifer beneath Motorola cannot be used without extensive cleanup efforts.
Now, ten years after discovery of the contamination and two years after signing the cleanup agreement, Motorola has just begun serious pump and treat" work on the aquifer. The pump and treat" technology was invented shortly after World War II and is astonishingly simple. To date, it is the only effective way to remove TCE from water. But the process has been likened by experts to removing sand from bubblegum.
The pump-and-treat technology is a good way to remove TCE from water, but a bad way to remove TCE from an aquifer.
Because TCE volatilizes easily, water pumped from the tainted aquifer is shot through an air chamber. The TCE evaporates into a carbon filter. When TCE in the water is reduced to less than five parts per billion-the federal health maximum for drinking water-the cleansed water is pumped to the Motorola plant for industrial use. From there, it is discharged into the city sewer.
But the problem comes from the TCE remaining in the aquifer. Since TCE is heavy, it sinks into cracks in the rocks at the bottom of the aquifer. From there, it slowly dissolves, sending up tiny particles of itself into the aquifer. Or else it travels through the cracks and infects other parts of the aquifer.
But some experts say it is difficult, if not impossible, to suck TCE up from the cracks in the rock.
That's why some hydrologists say it is futile to use pump-and-treat methods to clean TCE from aquifers. In New Jersey, for instance, state officials decided it was futile to try to treat a TCE plume. They simply abandoned the site. But New Jersey has plenty of drinking water.
In the arid West, where groundwater is precious, pump and treat is better than nothing, says EPA's Montgomery .
Even if the TCE can't be cleaned out of the aquifer, the massive pumping will halt the spread of the plume of contamination.
Motorola's consultants believe the aquifer can be cleaned completely, says Don Netko. He does not know how long it will take to clean up the aquifer completely. Perhaps 25 years. Or 50 years. The real important issue here is that we moved forward very aggressively with the state and EPA to get this remediated, getting the plant on line quickly," he says.
EPA's Montgomery says he cannot even venture a guess of the time needed to cleanse the aquifer.
THE STATE HAS NOT BEEN the only governmental entity that has been criticized for the way in which it regulates Motorola.
Since at least 1964, people in the McNamaras' neighborhood had complained about massive discharges of industrial wastewater from the plant. The water would flood out of manholes. Sometimes, the ugly combination of industrial and human waste would come up through toilets, leaving the carpets of nearby homes stained an ugly black.
Even when the sewers weren't flooding, they emitted industrial fumes. In 1968 some residents in the area near the 52nd Street plant complained to the City of Phoenix that fumes from the city sewer were making them ill.
The solvent dumping in the sewer created an unusual hazard to public health and property," he said, and it violated city codes. The complaints to us from downstream residents of strong chemical odors coming from the municipal wastewater line, and reports of chemical vapor-caused illnesses, to both adults and small children, cannot be ignored by either Motorola or the city."
But despite numerous wastewater violations, the city didn't take serious action until 1988-24 years after the first citizen complained-when it took Motorola to court. Without admitting guilt, the company agreed to treat wastewater to health standards.