Perhaps you’ve noticed the green fencing surrounding the lot at the corner of Haley and Santa Barbara streets and the low rumbling of a diesel engine. Perhaps you haven’t. It’s a discrete and green machine.

Mission Linen Supply, a textile rental company headquartered in Santa Barbara, is continuing its ongoing cleanup project of a former dry cleaning site at 201 East Haley Street. Mission Linen acquired the site in 1970, but it had already operated as Ambassador Laundry since 1920. Up until the late 1970s, knowledge of the toxicity of trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE) (solvents commonly used in dry cleaning) and their connection to cancer was unknown.

According to Karl Willig, CEO of Mission Linen, as soon as the information was made available, he closed down dry cleaning services and started soil remediation at this site and others. In 1996 and 1997, the buildings were demolished. Mission Linen has since been working to test, remediate soil, and clean up the groundwater at the site and surrounding properties, in compliance with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The latest cleanup procedure, set to run for 90 days, uses a relatively new technology known as evaporative desorption treatment. This is the first time such technology has been used in Santa Barbara, and it has only been used once before in California (in the Bay Area on a similar site with similar contaminants). Previously, the unit, patented by Brady Environmental, has been used in hard-to-reach sites, like Alaska’s Togiak Bay, because of the ease and low cost of transporting and running it, and its effectiveness in cleanups.

The evaporative desorption unit, a mysterious looking trailer with an assortment of pipes and hoses coming out the back, functions by taking in two 10-ton pans of soil and running hot air — at temperatures around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit — through them for three to four hours. The air containing the particulates is then filtered through compressed carbon, which scrubs out the contaminants. The soil is then rehydrated and used to fill up the site, ensuring that there is no offsite contamination.

Interestingly, only the soil that tested as having the highest levels of contaminants will be treated with the unit. The rest of the area will continue to be tested and monitored, along with several other properties’ groundwater, until the Regional Water Quality Control Board deems it clean enough.

Willig expressed hopes that this new technology, which carries a $1 million price tag, will speed up the process by eradicating the source of contamination. He then hopes to use it on other former dry cleaning operations acquired by Mission Linen. The cleanup is made more difficult by the site’s location on the lower Eastside — a former lagoon.

It will take “continued vigilance,” said Willig, to ensure that the site meets cleanliness requirements. Mission Linen has no current plans for the site after it is fully clean.


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