By Kiet Do

MOUNTAIN VIEW (KPIX 5) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its final report on the Superfund Task Force Monday, a two-year long effort to find solutions to expedite cleanup, reduce cost, encourage private investment and development on some of the most contaminated sites in the country, including Mountain View.

The announcement happened concurrently in a total of 10 cities with Superfund sites: Mountain View, CA, Bridgewater, NJ, Houston, TX, Chatanooga, TN, Kalamazoo, MI, North Providence, RI, Richland Township, PA, North Kansas City, MO, Minturn, CO, Renton, WA.

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Susan Bodine, the assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for the EPA, highlighted a townhome development at 277 Fairchild Drive in Mountain View, as a recent success for the agency.

The parcel, which sits on the western edge of the Superfund boundary, is now an active construction site after years of remediation and decontamination. Bodine said the key to attracting private investment was drafting written agreements with between the EPA and the new owners that limits their liability.

“If they have EPA blessing with what they’re doing, then they know, one, it’ll be protective. So it’ll for their safe redevelopment, but two, they have EPA signoff so they’ll know they’re not going to become liable beyond what they’re already doing,” said Bodine. “Instead of having these Superfund sites just languish and be a blight on the neighborhood, instead you can have properties get back into productive use. And even better, with private investors, they’re spending their money. You’re not spending taxpayer dollars.”

The underground plume of trichloroethylene, or TCE, has been well documented. The plume is about 1.5 miles long, a half mile wide, covers the southeastern end of Moffett Field, and is bisected by U.S. Highway 101. The new development at 277 Fairchild caused concern for neighbors who feared contaminants would become airborne during the cleanup.

When the 22 townhomes and 4 detached homes are done, Mountain View Mayor Lisa Matichak said prospective buyers should have no hesitation in buying one.

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“I would absolutely buy one of those homes,” said Matichak. “I feel very confident in what the EPA has done.”

“Working with EPA, Mountain View was able to tell people ‘It’s OK to live here‘. There is still some cleanup going on, but it’s been cleaned up well enough,” said Lenny Siegel, former mayor of Mountain View. “We’ve got mitigation in the buildings, so you and your families will not be exposed to the legacy of the early days of Silicon Valley.”

The Mountain View Superfund site has also been a testing ground for new cleanup technologies. The EPA has been injecting “substrate” into the ground, emulsified vegetable oil and molasses, to name a few, in order to encourage the growth of the bacteria “dehalococcoides.” The microbe eats the toxins and renders it harmless, in a process dubbed ‘bioremediation.’

“The [bioremediation] technology shows a lot of promise and we’re excited about using and evaluating it in areas, particularly in high concentration areas to accelerate the cleanup,” said Alana Lee, EPA project manager.

Also in the middle of the toxic plume, between the baseball fields on Moffett Field, is a grove of specially-bred trees – cottonwood-poplar hybrids. The trees are enhanced with a special endophyte, or fungus, that eats the toxins, in a process called ‘phytoremediation.’ The trees are engineered not to grow the cotton-like material, but also suck up 50 gallons per day on average, and consume the TCE.

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“We’re fixing CO2, a greenhouse gas, into carbon inside of the tree, so it’s truly a green process, and we’re pretty excited about it, as is the engineering world, which is really touting a green approach to remediation in the future,” said John Freeman, chief scientist for Intrinsyx Technologies, the company that developed the tree.