In the mid-1950s, an investigation by the California Division of Mines and Geology indicated that serpentine matrix of the New Idria Formation was asbestos. Subsequent investigation in the southeastern third of the New Idria Formation demonstrated that the asbestos ore could be mined and milled to produce a marketable asbestos product.
From 1959 to 1962, the Coalinga and Los Gatos Creek areas experienced an intensive land rush for asbestos mining claims.
The Johns-Manville (JM) Site is a 120-acre tract of land near the town of Coalinga owned by Southern Pacific Company’s (SPC) subsidiaries. SPC received the land for free from the federal government as part of the land grant under the 1871 Railway Act.
SPC leased the property to Coalinga Asbestos Company, which mined and milled asbestos at the JM Site from 1962-1974. Piles of asbestos tailings waste were left uncovered and 450,000 cubic yards of asbestos waste remained abandoned at the site.
The Atlas Mine Area is a 450-acre tract of land near the town of Coalinga, California. Asbestos mining and milling at the Atlas site occurred from 1967 to 1979, first by Atlas Asbestos Company, and later by Wheeler Properties, Inc.
Over the course of these 12 years, asbestos ore was mined and processed, resulting in accumulation of 135,000 tons asbestos tailings waste per year. Piles of such waste were left uncovered and 3 million cubic yards of asbestos waste remained abandoned at the site.
On December 3, 1976, the EPA issued a violation and order against Atlas Asbestos Co. for visible asbestos emissions in violation of federal National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations.
In early 1980, the Metropolitan Water District (“MWD”) of Southern California detected elevated levels of asbestos in water samples from the California Aqueduct near Los Angeles.
An extensive sampling program along the Aqueduct, conducted by the MWD in August through September of 1980, suggested that the Atlas Mine and the JM Mill Area as probable sources of asbestos in the California Aqueduct.
Asbestos levels of up to 2500 million fibers per liter (“MFL”) were measured.
In its February 13, 1980 inspection report, the EPA estimated nearly 180 tons of fugitive dust emissions per year from the uncontrolled and uncovered asbestos tailings waste piles at the Atlas Site. The EPA grew concerned of the possibility of these fugitive asbestos emissions being transported by the strong winds into the downtown Coalinga area, thereby posing a risk to the health and safety of the nearby Coalinga residents.
In May 1980, sampling by the Metropolitan Water District of the asbestos tailings waste piles showed high levels of asbestos ranging from 20 to 40 weight percent.
The EPA uses the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) to evaluate uncontrolled waste sites for possible inclusion on the National Priorities List (NPL). The EPA conducted a preliminary assessment and site inspection of the two asbestos mines/mills to assess the potential threat to human health or the environment.
The National Priorities List is a list of the worst hazardous waste sites identified by the EPA. The EPA, which considers asbestos a known carcinogen, determined that the uncontained asbestos tailings at the JM and Atlas Sites would lead to the generation of airborne asbestos emissions. The EPA concluded that the airborne asbestos from these sites posed an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and safety and required long-term cleanup.
Because the Atlas and JM Mines were designated as a Superfund Site requiring long-term cleanup, the EPA required Southern Pacific Land Company, Coalinga Asbestos Company, and Atlas Asbestos Company to conduct remedial investigation and feasibility studies. The objective was to characterize the nature and extent of risk posed by uncontrolled hazardous asbestos waste found at the Atlas and JM Sites and to evaluate potential remedial options.
During an airborne asbestos sampling program in 1986 and 1987 conducted as part of the EPA’s Remedial Investigation to measure airborne asbestos emissions from the JM and Atlas Superfund Sites, the EPA found very high levels of asbestos emission in the town of Coalinga. The EPA determined that these levels – far in excess of the OSHA permissible limit – posed a significant cancer and mesothelioma risk to the local residents who were being exposed on a 24-hour basis every day.
The EPA’s investigation revealed heavily contaminated 107-acre property in Downtown Coalinga. The property, owned by Southern Pacific Company’s subsidiaries, consisted of warehouses, storage yards, and shipping yards along the railroad tracks.
The contamination was the result of the storage, handling and shipping of asbestos from Atlas and JM Sites. Bags of asbestos fibers broke during the unloading/loading process, and neither the tenants nor property owners cleaned up the asbestos or otherwise prevented it from becoming airborne.
The EPA determined the heavy asbestos contamination found in Downtown Coalinga to pose an imminent and substantial cancer risk to the 10,000 nearby residents and ordered Southern Pacific Transportation Company (SPTC) to conduct emergency measures to protect the public from exposure. This included adding fencing to prevent children from accessing the contaminated property, covering piles of asbestos waste to prevent asbestos from blowing in the air, and posting warning signs.
No measures had been taken before by the property owners or tenants until ordered by the EPA.
Southern Pacific Transportation Company submitted and had approved a Hazardous Substance Containment Plan in response to the EPA’s August 1987 Order regarding the asbestos contamination in Downtown Coalinga. SPTC was required to devise and implement a plan for the 107-acre property, including taking immediate actions to suppress asbestos dust from becoming airborne and to prevent children and other residents from playing in or otherwise accessing the contaminated sites.
In the fall of 1997, the interim measures proposed and approved in SPTC’s Hazardous Substance Containment Plan were performed.
On September 19, 1989, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the City Operable Unit, setting forth the remedy selected by the EPA to protect local residents from the asbestos contamination in downtown Coalinga. Because there was no cost-effective way to permanently remove the asbestos contamination at the site, the EPA would conduct a review every 5 years after the commencement of the cleanup.
Southern Pacific Transportation Company enters into a Consent Decree with the EPA, agreeing to implement the cleanup remedy selected by the EPA in its Record of Decision designed to protect the public from the asbestos contamination in downtown Coalinga.
On September 21, 1990, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the JM Superfund Site, which set forth the remedy selected by the EPA to protect the public and environment from the asbestos contamination at the JM Mine and Mill. Because there was no cost-effective way to permanently remove the asbestos contamination at the site, the EPA would conduct a review every 5 years after the commencement of the cleanup.
Pursuant to the Consent Decree and Record of Decision, SPTC began implementing the long-term cleanup remedy selected by the EPA. This included: removing and consolidating the asbestos-contaminated soils and waste materials; decontaminating the buildings previously used for storage and shipment of asbestos; using strict dust control measures to limit the release of asbestos fibers from the site; constructing an underground, onsite Waste Management Unit to permanently bury the consolidated asbestos-contaminated soil and waste.
Southern Pacific Land Company’s successors enter into a Consent Decree with the EPA, agreeing to implement the cleanup remedy selected by the EPA to protect the public from the asbestos contamination found on their property at JM Superfund Site.
On February 14, 1991, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the Atlas Superfund Site, which set forth the remedy selected by the EPA to protect the public and environment from the asbestos contamination at the Atlas Mine and Mill. Because there was no cost-effective way to permanently remove the asbestos contamination at the site, the EPA would conduct a review every 5 years after the commencement of the cleanup.
Vinnell Mining and Minerals Corporation and Atlas Corporation enter into a Consent Decree with the EPA, agreeing to implement the cleanup remedy selected by the EPA to protect the public from the asbestos contamination at the Atlas Superfund Site.
Pursuant to the Consent Decree and Record of Decision, Southern Pacific Land Company began implementing the remedy selected by the EPA to minimize runoff of asbestos tailings into the water system and restricting access to the JM site so as to prevent exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos waste at the Atlas Site presented three major problems: vehicular or other human disturbance-generated airborne asbestos at the site; transport of asbestos from the Site to outside area by vehicles traveling through the Site; and release of asbestos from the Atlas Site into the local creeks, which created the risk of the asbestos becoming airborne. Remedial activities began at the Atlas site to control the release of asbestos into air and local streams from the Site and to restrict access to the Site.
The remedies selected by the EPA in the Record of Decision were implemented and completed for the City of Coalinga Operable Unit and the JM Mine and Mill Operable Unit. As such, the two Sites were removed from the EPA’s National Priorities List.
Learn the history of Coalinga and Fresno asbestos mining, asbestos storage, and the history of mesothelioma
in Coalinga and the surrounding Fresno County. From the discovery of asbestos & the arrival of railroads to EPA Superfund cleanup.
The warehouse is located in the town of Coalinga on Elm Ave (Hwy 198) across from residences, and was used as a distribution center for asbestos mined and milled at the Atlas and JM Superfund Sites. The EPA found approximately 1,600 cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated waste and materials abandoned at the Warehouse. No measures had been taken to prevent entry and children were found playing in the contaminated property.
This yard - located near several residences near Glenn Ave and 6th Street in downtown Coalinga – was found to be highly contaminated with asbestos as it was used as asbestos distribution center by Vinnell Mining and Minerals Corp (d.b.a. as Atlas Asbestos Company). Piles of asbestos were left abandoned on the land for over a decade.
The storage yard located ½ mile from the Marmac Warehouse contained stacks of asbestos-cement pipes and was found to be contaminated with asbestos containing waste.
This property – located on the southern portion of the 107-acre Superfund site in downtown Coalinga – contained piles of asbestos waste left abandoned by the prior tenants and the property owner.
Property Owners and Mining and Milling Companies Responsible for Asbestos Contamination