State Targets 4 Southeast-Area Sites for Toxic Waste Cleanup

Times Staff Writer

The state has placed four Southeast-area properties on its 1985 list of worst toxic waste sites, notifying the firms responsible that if they fail to clean up the sites, it will do the work and send them the bill.

The list of 180 sites, nearly double last year's 93, was issued by the state Department of Health Services. Southland Oil Inc. in Commerce, Neville Chemical Co. and Waste Disposal Inc. in Santa Fe Springs and Leeder Ardrox Inc. in La Mirada are ranked 22nd, 28th, 39th and 100th, respectively. This is the first year they have appeared on the list.

In interviews, representatives of the Southeast firms angrily objected to inclusion on the list, disputing the state's tests, arguing that measures have already been taken to clean up the properties and claiming only minor responsibility for the hazardous wastes found on the properties.

By including a firm on the list, "we're telling the company that we're serious about cleaning up the site," said Steve Lavinger, a program manager for the Toxic Substances Control Division of the state Department of Health Services, Southern California section.

"We don't want to live with these sites in our backyard," he said. "The state is prepared to go in to clean up the site if no one wants to come forth and do it themselves."

However, if a company on the list refuses to clean up a site, the state will do the work and attempt to recover the cleanup costs in court, Lavinger said.

"We, the people (of California), aren't going to clean up some company's mess just because we're good guys," he said.

Funds for cleanup of the toxic waste sites will come from $100 million in bonds approved by voters last November, state officials said, with work on at least 10 sites to be finished this year. Sites with a high public health risk and low cleanup cost are ranked first, with a lower ranking given to sites with a high cleanup cost and/or less risk to the public.

"We're going to stretch the bond money as far as we can go," said Joel Moskowitz, deputy director for Toxic Substances Control. Just how far the money will stretch depends on companies' willingness to clean up their sites, he said. The state Legislature will review site-by-site estimates on cleanup costs and completion dates submitted by the Department of Health Services, Moskowitz said.

For the first time this year, sites already on the federal "Superfund" list for toxic waste cleanup were given a lower ranking on the state list. Thus, Operating Industries Inc. in Monterey Park plummeted from 16th to 74th on the state list this year.

Ranked highest on the state list among Southeast-area firms was Southland Oil Inc., which leased an oil reclamation facility on Randolph Street from 1980 to 1983.

The state's analysis of the property, which had been used for refining used motor oil since 1928, showed the presence of suspected carcinogens chloroform, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and benzene; acetone and heavy metals. The site also has piles of contaminated soil. The state health department has estimated the cost of cleanup at $425,000, with a completion date of January, 1986.

Roger Johnson, a member of Southland Oil's board of directors, said the company cleaned up a 2,000-gallon spill of diesel fuel and paint thinner that occurred during its lease. Johnson was sentenced to 30 days in jail in 1984 for failing to clean up the site, said Harriet Tregoning, waste management specialist with the regional Toxic Substances Control Division. Johnson said he had been required to build dikes around storage tanks to contain potential chemical spills. He was unable to obtain a permit from county engineers to build the dikes, he said, and was sentenced to jail.

Johnson complained that his company has been unfairly singled out for hazardous wastes found on the property. "We may be responsible for 1% of what's been done there in 30 years," he said. The Ellison Oil Co. owns the site and has leased it to several firms since 1928, Johnson said, and it is not now being leased.

Lavinger said the companies whose names appear on the list may not be solely responsible for contamination found on their property. Included in the estimates of cleanup cost, he said, is a search for all responsible parties.

At Neville Chemical Co. on East Imperial Highway, the state found highly toxic dioxin, dichlorobenzene and furans, which are explosive under certain conditions.

The plant, which manufactures chlorinated wax used to coat cables and wires, is 100 yards from a residential condominium complex. The state has estimated cost of cleanup at $2.73 million, with an estimated completion date of July, 1986. Tom McKnight, an attorney for Neville at corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa., said the company objects to its ranking on the state's list because the state has not completed its testing.

Neville's own studies did not find any levels of dioxin or furans in their most toxic forms, he said, although traces of non-toxic compounds of the chemicals were found. Small traces of dichlorobenzene, a toxic solvent, were found around some storage tanks, but there is no evidence of migration into the ground soil, McKnight said.

"We don't have wall-to-wall contamination," he said. "We challenge the state to demonstrate why they've taken such action."

Lavinger said that Neville was ranked based on the presence of dichlorobenzene. Samples of dioxins and furans taken at the site were sent to a laboratory in Sweden for specialized tests in May, and the state expects to have complete results back within the next few weeks, Lavinger said.

Waste Disposal Inc. on Los Nietos Road is an abandoned site used from 1928 to 1965 as a dump for drilling mud and other oil field wastes. Health department investigators found petroleum, benzene and phenol, a flammable chemical, at the 37-acre site near St. Paul High School. The state estimates cost of cleanup at $10.65 million and has set a tentative completion date of January, 1987.

The estimated cleanup is costly, Lavinger said, because the site was used for decades before there were any regulations on hazardous waste disposal. The state will have to do an extensive investigation "before we take a bulldozer in and start digging. We have no idea of what went in there, or (whether) the ground water is contaminated," he said.

Because of its relatively low, 100th-place ranking on the state's list, Leeder Ardrox Inc. (formerly Leeder Chemicals Inc.) may not receive any of the $100 million in bond funds.

The state found toxic chemicals methyl ethyl ketone and 1,1,1-trichloroethane, kerosene and trichloroethylene (TCE), a suspected carcinogen, at the facility, which manufactures chemical compounds used for cleaning airplanes.

The state estimated cleanup costs at $515,000 and has not set a cleanup date.

Leeder representatives said they were "surprised . . . and a little angry" to find the company on the list.

The firm spent $250,000 last year to investigate soil and shallow ground-water contamination at the site and install an effective system to clean it up, said James Levine, president of a engineering consulting firm hired by Leeder for the cleanup. A series of wells and pumps to extract the contaminated ground water has been in operation since November and is expected to complete the job within a year, Levine said.

Placing Leeder on the state's list "makes the company look like they were irresponsible," Levine said. "It doesn't give the company a good name for people to think that public money is going to be spent on a private firm."

Lavinger said the state ranks companies where hazardous waste problems exist, even if the company is in the process of cleaning up the site. Inclusion on the list is a guarantee that the work will be completed if the company goes bankrupt or suddenly stops cooperating, Lavinger said.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has monitored the ground-water contamination at Leeder, "has not taken any enforcement action against the firm," said Bob Ghirelli, executive director of the board. "They have been cooperating with us for about six months." Times Staff Writer Steven R. Churm also contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World