The Environmental Protection Agency has received $31.9 million in settlements to clean the hazardous waste site at Casmalia in northern Santa Barbara County.

In early March, the federal government proposed several settlements that will require the major waste generators at the site to pay for its cleanup. Casmalia has been a disposal site for hazardous waste, generated mostly by oil production, since 1973. In 1991, ownership of the site was turned over to the EPA, which began a cleanup effort scheduled for completion in 2008.

Kent Kitchingman, project manager for the EPA, said the settlements are a way of making oil companies accountable for their waste.

“We are taking enforcement actions to make the waste generators responsible for their contribution to the site,” Kitchingman said. “We are looking at the people generating the waste and collecting money to get the site cleaned.”

The most prominent settlements include $28 million from the Casmalia Negotiation Committee, $2 million from the Baumgartner Oil and Gas Co., $600,000 from Crosby & Overton, Inc. and $500,000 from Quintana Petroleum Co.

Since 1991, four of the five landfills at Casmalia have been permanently capped. Money from the settlements will go toward capping the fifth landfill and removing contaminated soil and liquid from the surface. The caps prevent water from entering the landfill and spreading the hazardous waste.

The EPA has estimated that there are currently 5.6 billion pounds of hazardous waste, none of which is radioactive, at Casmalia. The area was declared a Superfund site one and a half years ago. The Superfund program – which began in 1981 under the Office of Emergency and Remedial Response – locates, investigates and cleans the most toxic sites in the U.S.

The Casmalia cleanup project includes a storm water diversion fund to keep water from coming into contact with the hazardous waste.

“We’ve run tests and the water is relatively clean,” Kitchingman said. “Most of the contamination is from naturally occurring sources. Still, we haven’t been able to discharge any water from the site due to the possibility of contamination. The drainage area doesn’t receive water anymore.”

When the EPA gained control of Casmalia in 1991, treatment systems were installed to stabilize the site. The stabilization process was completed in 1996. Kitchingman said the cleanup is now in its final stages.

“The final remedy will undoubtedly optimize the system,” he said. “All we need to do is cap the last landfill, decrease the amount of surface water and find the preferred option for installing a permanent remedy.”