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Chatham Barrel Yard



The Chatham Barrel Yard is a State Superfund hazardous waste site that has contaminated groundwater, soil, and surface water off-site in southwest Escondido and in Felicita Park.


According to official documents, the Chatham Brothers Barrel Yard is the largest site in our region contaminated with toxic chlorinated hydrocarbon pollution.   It was discovered in the 1980’s and designated as a ‘State Superfund’ site.  During the past 30 years, the plumes of contamination have migrated in groundwater over a mile from the site and have polluted local domestic wells, groundwater, and Felicita Creek in violation of water quality standards established in the Basin Plan, and requirements in the MS4 permit.  The contaminated plumes have migrated from the yard and are now under Felicita Park, existing homes, and farmland.  This is a tragic situation that has not been resolved in the over 20 years of remedial action.  Major cleanup efforts have occurred at the Barrel Yard itself, but no cleanup of contaminated groundwater has been done downstream/down gradient of the Chatham site.   Several chemicals from the site are on the Proposition 65 list—a state list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Discharges to the surface water of Felicita Creek are continuing unabated in violation of water regulations, adopted remedial objectives, and the Basin Plan.  Local residents have had beneficial and healthful use of their groundwater compromised.  The contamination in the plumes has also been captured by domestic wells which discharge the contamination to land and air without treatment and creating another route of exposure. 

The full Health Risk Assessment was completed in 1996 and many conditions have changed from that time.  New homes are under construction and proposed on areas contaminated by the plumes. The plumes have migrated under more properties and new routes of exposure may occur with the new development plans. The potential for future actions by the county and city that could impact migration of the plume and/or exacerbate erosion through groundwater recharge, discharges, runoff or increased intensities and volumes of flows should be stopped.

And, the plume continues to migrate south toward Lake Hodges, and east and west into developed areas.  As stated in official documents,  “ Temporal changes in constituent concentrations dissolved in groundwater suggest water quality with the off-Yard plume is getting worse in the downgradient direction and will adversely impact groundwater that is not currently impacted. “ 

From June 2004 to March 2010 the plume of TCE has moved 600 feet further downgradient, Tetrachlorethylene (PCE) is 1,200 feet further downgradient, and 1,4 Dioxane is shown in multiple wells that did not have detectable limits before.

The Water Board stated in comments on the 5-Year remedy review in October, 2010, “Therefore, it appears that this remedial objective is not being achieved in the groundwater plume extending south from Hamilton Lane. Should this trend be allowed to continue, the plume may eventually discharge into Lake Hodges, a potable water supply for the City of San Diego.  Such a discharge is unacceptable to this agency.”

ENU Position and Recommendations:

We agree that the current situation is unacceptable.  Although cleanup operations have been underway for 20 years, we are still in this serious condition with discharges on-going.  ENU does not feel that the current remedial strategy is working and  strongly urge that additional measures be taken.

ENU has formally requested the following of the Department of Toxic Substances Control Board (DTSC) and the State Regional Water Board:

1. The Five Year Remedial Remedy Review should not be finalized or adopted until a community meeting is held and additional actions to remediate pollution in groundwater and Felicita Creek are required. 

2.  Regulators should review and comment on all environmental review documents (including CEQA and other agency Site Investigations) for projects in the Felicita Creek Watershed and ensure that no actions occur that will negatively impact migration of plumes, increase exposure to sensitive receptors, exacerbate flows of the creek, or increase or cause violations of water quality standards. 

3. Regulators should communicate to the City and County that appropriate steps must be taken to reduce exposure and no more sensitive uses or exposure pathways should be located in the zone of impact of the plumes until cleanup has occurred and water quality is restored.  Exposures from excavation, increased access to ‘duck pond’, vapor intrusion, and runoff and flooding impacts to the existing plume are all risks that must be eliminated or avoided.

4. The 1996 Health Risk Assessment should to be updated to reflect new standards and new conditions.

5. We request that the San Dieguito Watershed Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) include Felicita Creek as a high-priority waterbody and develop a strategy to address conditions of pollution in the creek and groundwater.

6.  A Community Review Committee or other such entity should be established by regulators to facilitate communication and flow of information about the impacts of the contamination from the site.   

Current Status

We understand there will be a community meeting soon.  We will ask that  additional actions be taken to reduce the contamination from the site. 

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Responsible Agencies

  • Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)
  • Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board)
  • County of San Diego

Terms to Know

There are many acronyms used frequently in this issue.  We have created a special list of acronyms on our website [HERE].

How YOU can Take Action

1.   We urge all residents and users of Felicita Park who are concerned about this issue to communicate with Mr. Hossein Nassiri, DTSC, or 714-484-5384 and let him know your concerns, request a public meeting soon, and ask to be added to the interested persons list to be kept apprised of actions on this site.  Please send us a copy of your email at


There are two archives of Public and Regulatory documents related to the Chatham Site.  Take a look at the following data bases related to contamination in the area.

Department of Toxic Substances Control records related to Chatham

Regional Water Quality Control Board records related to Chatham

We are working on a detailed history of the Chatham Barrel Yard State Superfund site and hope to have it posted soon.


Key Documents

Water Board to DTSC letter, July 8, 2014
ENU letter to DTSC
ENU letter to Water Board
Water Board to PRP Group, January 27, 2014
Water Board to PRP Group, November 1, 2012
Water Board Comments on 5-Year Remedy Review, Oct, 2010
Review of Remedy, Fact Sheet, DTSC, 2005
Transcript of Public Hearing on Chatham Cleanup, July 27, 1997

Chatham Documents