Halliburton water contamination lawsuits nearing completion
by Christian Betancourt, originally posted on March 31, 2016
A class action lawsuit claiming that Halliburton contaminated water in North Duncan by dumping jet fuel waste into a pond in Duncan since 1976 will see a resolution for the plaintiffs soon.
David Page, an attorney with Duncan Law Firm Leach and Sullivan working in conjunction with New York City Law Firm Weitz and Luxenberg said a status report will be filed with confidential settlements for their clients. The reports had not been filed as of press time.
In 2011 water quality tests showed the presence of ammonium perchlorate – a toxic salt mineral known to be used in fireworks and explosives and as missile fuel – in the north section of Duncan where an old Halliburton location was used as a place to conduct removal of spent missile fuel.
The process released the ammonium perchlorate compound into the groundwater and into private water wells.
According to the United State Environmental Protection Agency, perchlorate is highly soluble and “high doses of perchlorate can result in the decrease of body weight” and “cause hypertrophy of the thyroid gland.”
The EPA has also taken up monitoring perchlorate levels under the Safe Drinking Water Act and “has initiated the process of proposing a national primary drinking water regulation.”
An expert opinion map prepared by Earth Forensics and obtained by public records shows the contaminated area extends from Camelback to Gatlin Road and Highway 81 and Ponderosa Road.
“This is a photo of the area where the missile cleaning was going on,” said Page pointing to the map. “There was a pond where they took the missile waste waters and put them in the pond without a liner. It leaked down into the ground water. The water wasn’t deep. It was very shallow. Once the contamination gets into the ground water, the experts call that an underground water contamination plume. The plume is where the contamination has flown underground.”
Page pointed out in the map, the area where contamination was the highest.
“Most of the flow is going southwest and northeast,” he said. “That was as of two years ago. It might be bigger or smaller. With this information … we started settling cases. Depending on how much contamination they have, they can have health problems from drinking the water.”
The plume covered about 280 properties including residential and agricultural plots of land. Page said there is a debate between the experts from both sides about the number of properties affected or threatened by the plume.
“Some are huge, some are about an acre,” he said. “On average we would say (that represents about 580 people) over all the years.
The contamination, according to Page, occurred over four decades.
“For years since about 1976 until just a couple of years ago … people were drinking the water and Halliburton didn’t tell them,” he said. “Halliburton didn’t tell people the water they were drinking was contaminated until 2011, even though they knew they were contaminating the water since 1976.”
In order to remove the contaminants from the ground water, according to Page, the EPA and the Department of Environmental Quality ordered Halliburton to follow an extensive cleanup effort to rid the area of contaminants.
“First they have to remove the contaminated soil … because every time it rains it leaks the contamination in the ground water again,” he said. “Based on what (DEQ) required, (Halliburton) is taking out the most contaminated soil. The DEQ required Halliburton to stop the contaminated water from leaving the site by putting some trenches. Third they put in a pump system … to try to pump out the ground water, clean it … and dump the clean water into Cow Creek.”
Page said the effort is a pilot project being tested to remove the contaminated water.
“They’re theoretically possible, but until they do it and continue to look at the data … and if they work, the DEQ will require Halliburton to implement it full blast,” said Page.
The cleanup is required by DEQ. Page could not disclose if the clean up was part of the settlements.
“Halliburton has agreed to continue the cleanup efforts in accordance with DEQ and EPA requirements until (they) say it’s okay to stop,” he said. “They didn’t propose (the pilot programs) until last Fall. Frankly the public record shows, we were critical of Halliburton for waiting so long. We also believe, based on our public record filings … in our opinion, the plume is a lot bigger than it probably would’ve been if they had (been) busy earlier on.”