By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A key fact left out by the newsletters: As far back as 1986, the state and Motorola were aware of the possibility that these very high concentrations of TCE could never be completely removed from the granite bedrock beneath the plant.
One former Dames and Moore hydrologist, who requested anonymity, tells New Times that the consultants informed the state and EPA "very early" that the TCE might never be completely pumped out from beneath the courtyard. The reason: High concentrations of TCE had probably sunk into deep fractures in the granite bedrock. "We knew early on at Motorola that we couldn't completely clean up the stuff underneath the courtyard," says the scientist. "We knew that stuff would be a source [of pollution] from here to eternity."
It would be nearly impossible to remove the chemical embedded in the fractures. Once in these cracks, the TCE might travel through the bedrock, possibly to infect other parts of the aquifer. Or the TCE might stay trapped in the fractures, slowly dissolving, releasing tiny particles of itself into the water above for "ever and ever," the former Dames and Moore scientist says.
Why wasn't this made clear in the newsletters?
James Hussey, who directs the cleanup project for Dames and Moore, says that newsletters are no place for technical debates.
When asked if the public, which owns the Valley's groundwater, should be told that this aquifer and others across the country might never be completely cleansed, he says: "I'm not sure I can answer that."
The key point is that anyone who wanted to look in public records could find the information in libraries listed in the newsletters, Hussey says.
Citizens simply weren't that interested until the lawsuits were filed, he says.
But citizens had not been alerted to problems. They had no reason to trudge over to DEQ or the Saguaro Library to pore through thousands of pages of highly technical hydrological reports.
Even for the most sophisticated researcher, the language in those technical reports is daunting.
Few citizens, for instance, could sift through Dames and Moore's 1990 Review of Bedrock Issues for the Motorola 52nd Street Facility and understand the discussion of chemicals in the fractured bedrock, explained in part this way: "In monitor wells closest to contaminant sources, the concentrations of contaminants are generally higher in the bedrock than the alluvium. . . . Small amounts (ounces) of undissolved (nonaqueous) contaminants have been detected, sporadically, in the bedrock at one on-site monitor well, MP 3, and in one recovery well in the courtyard area."
So far, only Velma Dunn has explained to the citizens that the aquifer may not be completely cleaned. "Most of us are just not that sophisticated to know what the environmental language means," she says.
Both the state and Dames and Moore say the public has been alerted to the fact that no one has come up with a "final remedy" for cleaning up the aquifer.
Hussey says all of this was well-explained at the only public meeting hosted by Dames and Moore. The gathering, which occurred in July 1988, was attended by only 15 neighbors.
At that meeting, Alexis Strauss, the same EPA official who chastised the state for allowing Dames and Moore to inform the public, showed her own difficulty in communicating. In an attempt to explain that a solution to the contamination had yet to be found, she blurted: "An operable unit. . .is an action that you can take that you can separate from the final solution but yet it is consistent with what the final solution may be," she said of Motorola's plan to install a system of wells to pump out groundwater. "The reason you do it is to try to prevent or contain migration of contaminants, and it's something that ideally you can design and construct quite quickly.
"It's not the final solution, but it's a major step toward the final solution. It makes sense to get a part of this in place as soon as possible and build on it for the final solution," she went on.
Hussey himself spoke next: "As Alexis explained, this particular activity that we are discussing today involves a partial solution or an operable unit. What I will address are three alternatives which do not include the no action that we have evaluated to come to our recommended solution for the operable unit. The primary goal of that operable unit which is a partial solution at this time is to develop a plan that can effect cleanup efficiently and be implemented quickly."
With such communication from the government and the industry, citizens remained unaware of the severity of the environmental problem.
"I have walked around the neighborhoods. I sat on porches and drank beer with people. No one ever said anything about contamination," says Norman Fox, a neighborhood leader.
After learning that DEQ once accepted as gospel, without checking for quality, the environmental data provided by Motorola's consultants, and then entrusted the polluter to interpret the same statistics to the public, Fox no longer trusts the state.
An independent press acting as a watchdog might have been an effective check on this unusual industry-state alliance, but the media, with few exceptions, were not particularly vigilant.