El Segundo Power Generating Station

The El Segundo Power Generating Station is a 37-acre facility located on the Pacific Coast in Los Angeles County, between the Los Angeles International Airport and Manhattan Beach. Construction of the El Segundo Power Plant was completed in 1965. The plant was built, owned, and operated by Commonwealth Edison until 1998. At that time, the station was purchased from Edison by El Segundo Power, LLC. Though the station is currently in the process of shutting down, a new station is proposed to be built on the site.

The facility’s retention basins have always been a point of concern for the El Segundo Station. They were used to hold wastewater containing several different contaminants, including oil and suspended solid waste created during standard daily operations. Until recently the basins were also used to store dissolved metals, metal particulate, and acids. This practice was halted in the 1990s. Edison has always maintained that the metals were precipitated out of the liquid and transported to a solid waste facility. However, all other wastewater has been and still is regularly discharged into the Pacific Ocean.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control oversaw an investigation of the soil and groundwater under and around the basins in 1996. Sampling has continued to the present day to monitor the existence of metals in the soil and water. The building of the new El Segundo Power Plant cannot continue until a final determination has been made as to the current safety of the site. This has created a situation where the basins remain in operation although the power plant doesn’t. The procedures required to close the basins may yet pose a threat to human health.

Construction of the new El Segundo Power Station has already begun. When finished, the new station will generate a total of 550 megawatts of electricity to 400,000 nearby homes. The new power plant will be fueled by natural gas and is expected to go online in 2011. However, the plant is currently meant to be used only as a backup. The new generators operate on a quick-start system that can add electricity to the grid with only 10 minutes notice.

Though the new station will be constructed to contemporary building codes, power plants like the first El Segundo built in the 1960s and1970s often contained large amounts of asbestos in their construction and insulating materials.  While the heat-resistant properties of the asbestos reduced the risk of fire or overheating, the mineral was extremely dangerous to power plant workers, since when it broke down, it released deadly fibers into the air.  Diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma have been firmly linked to asbestos exposure.