Custom Chrome and Bumper
Custom Chrome & Bumper operated for nearly 60 years among the car repair shops, carnicerias and gas stations on the south side of Yuba City.
Deep dipping tanks crucial to the chrome plating business’ operation held gallons of acids, cyanides and other chemicals. Alone, they were a potential threat to workers and the environment; if combined within the tight quarters of the plating shop, the chemicals could have become exponentially dangerous, said Adam Palmer, supervising hazardous substance scientist in DTSC’s Emergency Response unit.
And then came a telephone call. In August 2012, the U.S. EPA’s National Response Center received a report of a potential hazardous waste spill at Custom Chrome & Bumper.
The plating business had closed in the spring, but the chemicals remained. DTSC Emergency Response staff responded, accompanied by U.S. EPA and Sutter County.
“We were a little surprised that a site like this existed,” Palmer said. “There was a lot of waste around the property, and it was very outdated. The facility looked like it probably had not been updated in a number of years.”
Emergency Response staff quickly determined that hazardous waste in the dipping tanks, 55-gallon barrels and other containers spread across the half-acre property posed a threat to public health and the environment. In early December, they launched the initial cleanup, contracting with a Chico firm to haul roughly 11,000 gallons of cyanide copper, acid etch, chromic acid, acid copper, acid nickel, cyanide nickel strip, zincate, cyanide brass, muriatic acid, nitric acid, cadmium cyanide, sulfuric acid, zinc, and other various types of waste from the land.
“While we were working, we could look in the backyards of homes and see children’s playground equipment,” Palmer said. “There were corrosive materials that were still in the dip tanks...if someone were to get inside and get in contact with that material they could be severely injured and possibly even killed…You could imagine if a small child got in there and for whatever reason fell (into a dip tank), it could have some dire consequences.”
DTSC and Sutter County officials have secured the property, posting it as a hazardous waste site and warning the public not to enter.
In late May or early June, the department will return to oversee removal of solid hazardous wastes that have accumulated in the bottoms of about half a dozen dipping tanks. Using a process that requires extensive heating, the solids will be liquefied and removed along with the tanks.
Custom Chrome & Bumper is considered an orphan site – one without a responsible party to pay for the cleanup. The business had fallen into bankruptcy, Palmer said, and when the owner died in August, none of his heirs took possession of it.
“It’s critical that DTSC continues to identify such sites, send out emergency response crews and oversee the cleanup, Palmer said. “Because of we don’t, they’re gonna sit there. And, unfortunately, they’ll be discovered when something bad happens. And we don’t want that to happen.”