Pacific Southwest, Region 9: Superfund
Serving Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and Tribal Nations
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA)
EPA #: CA9800013030
County: Los Angeles
Congressional District: 27
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Description and History
NPL Listing History
NPL Status: Final
Proposed Date: 02/07/92
Final Date: 10/14/92
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a 176-acre site in Pasadena, California. The area is primarily residential with some light commercial operations. The site is bordered by the San Gabriel Mountains on the north, an equestrian club and the local Fire Station on the south, a residential neighborhood on the west, and the Arroyo Seco Dry Wash on the east. The Army developed and operated JPL between 1945 and 1957. In 1958, jurisdiction was transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The California Institute of Technology conducts research and development at JPL under a NASA contract in the areas of aeronautics, space technology, and space transportation. JPL's primary activities include the exploration of the earth and solar system by automated spacecraft and the design and operation of the Global Deep Space Tracking Network.
Sources of contamination at the site include approximately 35 seepage pits where liquid and solid wastes were reportedly disposed of, a settling chamber in the JPL storm drain system, contaminated soil excavated from part of that system, and an area where waste solvents were dumped into three separate holes. Hazardous substances located at JPL include waste solvents, solid rocket fuel propellants, cooling tower chemicals, sulfuric acid, freon, mercury, and chemical laboratory wastes. In 1990, JPL detected significantly elevated levels of contaminants in the groundwater underneath and down-gradient of the site. Due to volatile organic compound (VOC) contamination in the groundwater, four municipal wells were shut down between 1989 and 1990 and two Lincoln Avenue Water Company wells were shut down in 1987. NASA installed treatment systems, and municipal wells began operating again in October of 1990. The Lincoln Avenue Water Company also has installed a treatment system on its wells, which are again operational. Approximately 120,840 people live within 4 miles of the site; an estimated 68,000 people obtain drinking water from municipal wells within 4 miles of the site. The Pasadena wells were shut down again in 2001 because of perchlorate (a component of solid rocket fuel) contamination. The perchlorate plume reached the Lincoln Avenue wells at levels above the State of California standards in 2004 and NASA paid for the installation of an ion-exchange/carbon filter treatment system. In March 2011, NASA completed the construction of the Monk Hill Treatment System for Pasadena Water and Power to address the perchlorate contamination in the Pasadena wells. Treated groundwater from both the Lincoln Avenue Treatment Plant and the Monk Hill Treatment System complies with all State of California Drinking Water standards and are delivered to the respective drinking water conveying systems.
The EPA and NASA have negotiated a Federal Facilities Agreement that requires NASA to conduct the cleanup efforts at the site.
Contaminants and Risks
- Soil and Sludges
The groundwater contamination from the JPL has traveled off site and has affected several drinking water wells, including four municipal drinking wells belonging to the City of Pasadena and two drinking water wells belonging to the Lincoln Avenue Water Company. The contaminants are primarily VOCs (including trichloroethylene and carbon tetrachloride) and perchlorate, which is a component of solid rocket fuel. The water from the contaminated wells are treated to State and Federal drinking water standards prior to delivery to customers.
Investigation and Cleanup Activities
This site is being addressed in four stages: initial actions and three long-term remedial phases focusing on the on-site groundwater, source control, and off-site contamination.
Initial Actions: In 1987, two Lincoln Avenue Water Company wells were affected by groundwater contamination from the JPL and were shut down. A treatment system for VOCs has since been installed and the wells are now operational. Between 1989 and 1990, four wells in the City of Pasadena also were impacted; a treatment system for VOCs has since been installed on these wells. Four wells owned by the City of Pasadena are still out of service because of perchlorate contamination, but NASA has begun installing a treatment system. Three additional wells owned by the City of Pasadena are located several miles downgradient. NASA installed a monitoring well in late 2004 and installed another well in 2005 to investigate whether this is part of the JPL plume. NASA paid for the installation of an ion-exchange/carbon filter treatment system in 2004 for the two Lincoln Avenue wells that had levels of perchlorate contamination above the State of California drinking water standard.
On-Site Groundwater: During an investigation of the on-site groundwater, NASA installed several wells to sample the nature and extent of contamination at the site. The results of these investigations were used to verify capture and proper treatment of the groundwater plume.
Source Control: During the summer of 1993, NASA began investigating sources of contamination at the site. These studies were primarily focused on the seepage pits and three other disposal points. NASA collected soil samples from numerous deep soil bearings and subsurface gas samples to determine which seepage pits are sources of contamination. NASA also investigated the extent of soil contamination. The surface soil was found to not contain contaminants at a level high enough to pose a threat to human health or the environment, so no further action is necessary for surface soils.
Off-Site Contamination: NASA has installed several groundwater wells to determine the nature and extent of contamination off site.
NASA installed monitoring wells in 2004 and 2005 in the Sunset Reservoir area of Pasadena, which is several miles downgradient from the JPL source area. The City of Pasadena has shut down four wells in this area because of high perchlorate levels. In 2013, with the support and participation of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control and Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, EPA technical support staff conducted an independent comprehensive evaluation of available site data. The evaluation concluded that existing data does not suggest that NASA contributed to the perchlorate contamination in the Sunset Area. NASA will continue to monitor the situation and if the data suggests otherwise, EPA will re-evaluate this finding.
On-Site Groundwater (OU 1): A pilot study was conducted in the winter of 2002/2003 to test the viability of using in-situ bioremediation to reduce the concentration of perchlorate in the on-site source area. The test showed that a bio-reactor was successful in destroying perchlorate to below detectable levels. In February 2007 an Interim Record of Decision was signed by all parties of the FFA, selecting the bio-reactor technology in an expanded groundwater extraction system on the NASA JPL property.
Off-Site Groundwater (OU 3): NASA has tested several treatment systems to remove perchlorate from drinking water and selected Ion-Exchange as the most appropriate method to install at the City of Pasadena wells. An Interim Record of Decision for OU 3 was signed by the FFA parties selecting Ion-Exchange as the best alternative to treat perchlorate from drinking water.
On-Site (OU 1): A four well pump and treat system was installed in 2004 in portion of the aquifer with the highest levels of VOCs and perchlorate. The system uses carbon filters to remove VOCs and a fluidized bed bio-reactor to destroy perchlorate. The system is operational in 2005 and expanded under the OU 1 Interim Record of Decision signed in February 2007.
Off-Site (OU 3): An ion-exchange and carbon filtration system was installed on the two Lincoln Avenue wells in 2004 to remove VOCs and perchlorate from drinking water. In March 2009 NASA started construction of a second groundwater treatment system (the Monk Hill Treatment System) which will remove VOCS and perchlorate from four of City of Pasadena's drinking water wells. NASA completed the construction of the Monk Hill System in 2011. Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) started delivering drinking water to customers from the Monk hill Treatment System in March 2011. Both treatment systems also provide hydrologic control to help slow migration of the plume further downgradient. The Interim Record of Decision for OU 3 signed in June 2007 will continue to fund treatment of the groundwater.
Source Control (OU 2): A Final Record of Decision (ROD) was signed in 2002 that specified that VOCs will be removed from the subsurface soils using Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE). The SVE system was installed in 2003 and is designed to remove sufficient contamination so that the underlying groundwater aquifer is no longer at risk of receiving new contaminants that could raise the concentrations in the groundwater above Safe Drinking Water Act regulatory levels. In March 2007, NASA finalized the Remedial Action Report for this site.
Cleanup Results to Date
The treatment systems installed on the Lincoln Avenue and Pasadena drinking water wells have reduced potential risks to human health and the environment while further investigations of site contamination are being completed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA) site.
Five Year Review
NASA completed the first five-year review in January 2012 and the second five-year review was submitted in January 2017 of the groundwater cleanup remedies undertaken at the NASA JPL CERCLA Site to determine if they continue to be protective. These remedies include three groundwater extraction and above-ground treatment systems to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and perchlorate from the groundwater. The Five Year Review Reports concluded that the interim remedies at both OU-1 and OU-3 evaluated in this Five-Year Review Report are protective of human health and the environment in the short term. Potential exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risk (i.e., ingestion and contact with chemicals in groundwater) are being controlled through groundwater extraction and treatment by the Monk Hill Treatment System (MHTS) and Lincoln Avenue Water Company (LAWC) treatment system. Both systems have routine monitoring programs in place to ensure chemicals are effectively removed. Treated water from both the MHTS and the LAWC system is in compliance with all water quality requirements specified by Federal and state regulations, with concentrations below Federal and California MCLs. In order for the remedy to be protective in the long term, final remedies for OU-1 and OU-3 must be incorporated into a final decision document and implemented. It is anticipated that a Final ROD for groundwater will be issued prior to the next Five-Year Review and will include any active
remedial actions and institutional controls necessary to provide long-term protection of human health and the environment. EPA concurred with NASA's Five Year Reviews on February 17, 2012 and January 25, 2017, respectively.
Potentially Responsible Parties
Potentially responsible parties (PRPs) refers to companies that are potentially responsible for generating, transporting, or disposing of the hazardous waste found at the site.
NASA is the PRP. For more information, click here for the NASA JPL CERCLA Program Website.
Documents and Reports
Public Information Repositories
The public information repositories for the site are at the following locations:
Pasadena Central Library
285 East Walnut Street
Pasadena, CA 91101
Altadena Public Library
600 East Mariposa Avenue
Altadena, CA 91001
La Canada Flintridge Public Library
4545 Oakwood Avenue
La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011
(JPL employees only)
Building 111, Room 112
Administrative Records are the responsibility of NASA JPL and are available online at https://jplwater.nasa.gov/inforepository.aspx
Record of Decisons are available in the NASA JPL Administrative Records.
EPA Site Manager
Mail Code SFD
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
EPA Community Involvement Coordinator
Mail Code SFD
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
EPA Public Information Center
Mr. Jeff Brooks
Cal EPA-Department of Toxic Substances Control
9211 Oakdale Avenue
Chatsworth, CA 91311
California Regional Water Quality Control Board
Los Angeles Region
320 West 4th St., Suite 200
Los Angeles, California 90013
NASA Project Manager
Ms. Merrilee Fellows
NASA Manager for Community Involvement
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109
After Hours (Emergency Response)