Jeanine herself got cancer in her late 40s. Before she died in 1989, she told her daughter Lisa that she suspected that living near the plant had a lot to do with the family's illnesses.
Then Jeanine's husband, Tom, got cancer.
Next, Lisa got cancer.
Now 31, Lisa thinks a lot about her childhood, about the funny smelling air and the toilets backing up. But most of all, she worries about the Big Ditch," where she and her sisters had a fort.
A drainage pipe coming from the Motorola property emptied onto the Big Ditch" in an empty desert lot south of Brill Street. Sometimes the ditch had water in it. The kids loved playing in it, loved making and eating mud pies and splashing each other and going after crawdads.
We played there every day," Lisa recalls. Some days the crawdads would all be dead, floating on the top of the water."
THE McNAMARA FAMILY moved out of its house shortly before the plume of contamination was discovered. Motorola says the company was a good corporate citizen" back in 1982, when it reported an apparent" solvent leak in an underground tank on the Motorola property and notified the state of the potential" for contamination.
State officials investigating the reported leak discovered a plume of water contaminated with TCE-and the highest reading of TCE ever logged in the state. A state report says the TCE reading was the highest yet found in EPA's Region IX, which includes California's Silicon Valley.
The plume of contamination is so vast that officials do not yet know exactly where it ends. From the Motorola plant, the plume snakes west beneath heavily populated neighborhoods and ends someplace west of 24th Street. It travels south beyond the Papago Freeway, which was elevated during construction to avoid the groundwater contamination.
Though the extent of the pollution is still unknown ten years after its discovery, state records link Motorola with the plume. Potential sources of contamination include past surface discharges, spills, tank and pipe leaks, and discharges into leach fields and dry wells" at the Motorola plant.
Based on conservative assumptions, it was estimated that approximately 200,000 gallons of chlorinated solvents were disposed at plant site sources...It was estimated that TCE was disposed in greatest quantities-116,000 gallons," a 1991 Department of Environmental Quality report says.
The state report relies on figures provided by Motorola. But today, Motorola consultants say the potential sources of contamination" were, for the most part, greatly exaggerated."
In 1983, a science teacher named George de Lange contacted journalist Kathleen Stanton. He said he worked the graveyard shift at Motorola in the late 1960s. I personally saw hundreds of gallons of TCE dumped on the ground in back of the chem-mix facility and also down the drains at the plating department," he wrote the newspaper.
Ken Phillips, a Motorola spokesman, questioned de Lange's comments. I don't know if any one account from one person would give a good account of what went on," the spokesman said.
Despite its unprecedented contamination, the 52nd Street site was not put on the federal Superfund list until seven years after the contamination was first discovered. By then, Motorola had already worked out a cleanup agreement with the state.
The federal agency was allowed only to have a Superfund liaison on the cleanup team. EPA was not always welcomed by either the state or Motorola. An EPA consultant wrote on March 4, 1984, that Chuck Anders, then head of the division of the state health department that handled environmental regulation, told EPA that there would be devastating" repercussions if the federal government took over the project.
The state was being aggressive" with Motorola, Anders said. No deals" were cut between the state and Motorola.
Anders now works for Motorola's consultants handling the 52nd Street Superfund site. He says he remembers objecting to EPA's idea of taking some sort of punitive or enforcement action" against the company. It would only serve to thrust Motorola into a confrontational mode," that might end up in the courts, he says. This, in turn, would keep the company from working on the aquifer. We felt things were going along okay," he says. The record will show that the state conducted an aggressive investigation," he says.
Another reason EPA was pushed onto the sidelines of the 52nd Street cleanup was the fact that the City of Phoenix defended Motorola after the contamination was discovered.
In 1984, Phoenix wrote a letter to the state health department protesting interference from EPA. We believe that Arizona entities understand Arizona water problems," wrote William Chase, the city's water resources management adviser. We are concerned that this program not become an excuse whose primary purpose is to identify and prosecute some guilty party or parties," Chase went on.
This means that an industry which disposed of TCE 20 years ago by a means which was then generally accepted practice, may be found guilty of polluting the groundwater," he said.
He closed by confiding that he feared Phoenix, too, might be liable" for cleanup in the Phoenix-Litchfield airport area.
Today, Chase says the city did not write the letter to appease the state's largest employer. I wasn't defending them," says Chase, who still works for the city. Motorola suspected they were the cause of the problem, but they were also cooperating and spending a lot of money" to define the extent of the contamination. Therefore, Chase says, the city felt that Motorola shouldn't be treated like a criminal" by EPA. For nearly a decade after Arizona wrested control of the 52nd Street site away from federal authorities, state officials charged with the cleanup failed to properly monitor Motorola's consultants. Now a new generation of regulators, including Mike Montgomery, EPA liaison for the 52nd Street site, is questioning the state's lack of scrutiny of Motorola's consultants.
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. The 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.
James Connell, of the City of Phoenix Water and Wastewater Department, wrote Motorola, excoriating the company for an apparently continuous presence of hazardous solvents" in the sewer.
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.
Once again, Motorola prefers to focus on the present, instead of on the past. We accepted responsibility," says company spokesman Moore.
Up until 1970, Motorola did not have to report in detail what it was emitting into the air. From 1970 on, Motorola itself has measured and reported chemical-air releases to Maricopa County Bureau of Air Quality Control. The semiconductor firm has not been found to be violating air-pollution regulations.
Nonetheless, the company legally released significant amounts of chemicals into the air, according to a 1992 Arizona Department of Environmental Quality report.
In 1990 alone, Motorola released 932,799 pounds of chemicals into the air.
part 3 of 4
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Arizona Fan Feigns Offense at ASU's 'Satanic' Mascot, Accidentally Dupes Local TV News
Tue., Oct. 13, 7:00pm
Wed., Oct. 14, 3:00pm
Thu., Oct. 15, 7:00pm
Thu., Oct. 15, 7:00pm
- Scottsdale Couple are Pioneers in Tiny-Home Movement in Arizona
- Glimmers of Real Sheriff Joe Arpaio Penetrate His Public Mask in Court