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State probes barrels with unknown contents at Panoche Water District

Workers discovered unexpected storage barrels during routine construction and cleanup work at a site owned by the Panoche Water District.
Workers discovered unexpected storage barrels during routine construction and cleanup work at a site owned by the Panoche Water District. vshanker@losbanosenterprise.com

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control is investigating multiple storage barrels filled with unknown contents at the Panoche Water District, authorities confirmed.

District President John Bennett issued a news release Thursday explaining how construction workers discovered unexpected storage barrels during routine construction and cleanup at a district-owned site.

“We immediately called in an outside company that is certified in the process of identifying and, if necessary, removing anything that may be dangerous,” Bennett stated in the release.

Bennett said that as of Thursday, the district didn’t believe anything stored in the barrels was “outside of the ordinary chemicals used by the district in its operations,” and that initial lab tests showed some of the chemicals in the barrels are routinely used to treat water.

According to Bennett, the site “is well-removed” from other facilities, and the district is attempting to clean up the area and improve the district’s land usage.

Attorney Christopher Brown, speaking on behalf of the district Thursday, said the district is cooperating with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control in the investigation.

DTSC Public Information Officer Russ Edmondson confirmed there is an ongoing investigation. But he said he couldn’t comment on any details.

Brown said about a dozen barrels were recovered at one of the district’s maintenance yards, while three barrels were dug out of the ground.

“I’m not sure how they got there,” Brown said about the underground barrels.

While the district believes the barrels found above ground are safe, the DTSC was still investigating the underground barrels, Brown said.

“We are awaiting further test results to confirm the contents of other barrels, and then will determine an appropriate removal plan,” Bennett said in the release.

Brown anticipated the investigation could conclude by next week.

Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562

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