Imperial Irrigation reaches settlement with EPA

INDIO, Calif. - The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that efforts by the Imperial Irrigation District to address improper disposal of toxic chemicals found at the utility's Indio and Coachella substations has led to a settlement between the two agencies, concluding nearly two years of environmental audits and clean-up efforts.

According to EPA officials, IID was audited for the violations in February of 2015, but has since spent nearly $1.25 million in efforts to address the presence of PCBs found at the two Coachella Valley substations.

PCBs are man-made chemicals used in paint, industrial equipment, plastics and cooling oil for electrical transformers, according to the EPA.

According to IID spokeswoman Marion Champion, PCBs were present in more
than 20 pieces of IID equipment, and using PCBs as cooling oil for transformers
was once ``standard practice (for utilities) in the mid-to-late 1900s,'' prior to a 1978 ban of the chemical's production.

EPA officials say exposure to PCBs can result in adverse effects to the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems, as well as deleterious effects on liver functions.

Following the audits, IID spent $685,000 for cleanup at the Indio substation, resulting in the removal of 1,863 tons of soil and debris, as well as $368,000 for cleanup in Coachella, which also included the disposal of 31 tons of soil and debris. EPA officials say that IID also spent $190,000 for a third party auditor to evaluate nine substations throughout the district, with no other traces of the chemical found.

About 78,530 pounds of PCBs were removed by IID through the cleanup effort and the more than 20 pieces of infrastructure that contained the chemicals were removed and replaced.

"The cleanups performed by Imperial Irrigation District have reduced the impacts of legacy PCB contamination in Coachella Valley,'' said Alexis Strauss, EPA's acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. ``EPA's goal is to protect public health and the environment from the risks of PCBs.''

The settlement is not a monetary penalty against IID, though the utility was required to pay a civil penalty of $379,000 last year.

Champion said ``today's announcement brings closure to the audit and subsequent clean-up efforts.''

According to Champion, the civil penalty imposed in 2015 was 50 percent less than what the EPA initially sought, allowing IID to use the extra funds to clean up the Indio and Coachella substations, as well as replace older infrastructure with PCB-free equipment.

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