Toxic Dump Next to High School : City Orders Testing at Santa Fe Springs Site

Times Staff Writer

The city has ordered testing of the ground water and topsoil at the Waste Disposal Inc. site, which is next to a high school and designated as one of the worst toxic dumps in the state.

City officials told a parents' organization Wednesday night that the topsoil will also be tested at the adjoining parochial school, St. Paul High.

The city's and school's water supply has not been contaminated by Waste Disposal Inc. because that supply is piped in from the Metropolitan Water District, officials said, but the ground water will be tested to determine whether other areas have been affected.

"There is no seepage, and I have no problem assuring you of that," City Administrator Don Powell told the parents. "I have four children, and if I were considering coming to St. Paul and with what I know about the site, that would not affect my decision to let them come to St. Paul. I do not see that there is an immediate emergency situation."

'I Drink It Myself' M. A. Aziz, assistant city engineer, said city water from five sources is tested each week and that there is "no problem whatsoever. I drink it myself about 12 hours a day."

In a 1983 review of company records, the state Department of Health Services determined that some hazardous materials were in the dump, which closed in 1964. But the state has not tested the site to identify all of the wastes or their impact on health and the environment, city officials said.

In July, 1984, the state informed the city that the site had been given high priority for test sampling, said George Beaty, assistant director of planning for the city.

But, he said, discussions with the state indicated it would be a long time before tests would be conducted.

Health concerns and new housing and industrial development pending in the area prompted the city's Redevelopment Agency to order soil tests, which in December confirmed the state health department records identifying the presence of hazardous materials, Beaty said.

Last month, the Redevelopment Agency ordered more testing of the topsoil and ground water. After the results are known in three to four weeks, the city will order an environmental impact report, which will take about three months to complete, Powell said.

Lower Elevation The topsoil tests will include samples from the school grounds, which have a lower elevation than the dump and may have been contaminated through rain runoff, he said.

Around 200 people concerned about the possible effects of a hazardous waste site packed the meeting with city and state officials.

The session, called by the school's Parents Club, was prompted by city and state health department investigations of the dump site to the south of the school, said Rev. Aidan M. Carroll, school principal. The school serves 15 Southeast-area Catholic parishes and represents 1,400 students and 1,150 families.

The session, called by the school's Parents Club, was prompted by city and state health department investigations of the dump site to the south of the school, said Rev. Aidan M. Carroll, school principal. The school serves 15 Southeast-area Catholic parishes and represents 1,400 students and 1,150 families.

Although the 37-acre site has been closed since 1964, it ranked 39th in a list of 180 toxic dumps designated as the worst in California by the state Department of Health Services earlier this month.

Owners of the dump could not be reached for comment.

Located at 12731 Los Nietos Road between Greenleaf Avenue and Santa Fe Springs Road, the site is scheduled for cleanup with money from a $100-million state bond and matching federal "Superfund" money, said Jim Smith, a representative from the state Department of Health Services. The Redevelopment Agency will pay $65,000 for the ground water and soil tests, Powell said.

Concern for Community Carroll said the dump became an issue at the regular meeting of the Parents Club because "we have concerns for the health of people who are part of the community, our teachers, our staff and students. We want them to be in a safe and healthy environment here and do not want present any hazard, any more than what they're exposed to in our modern industrial society."

Carroll also quashed rumors that the school would be closed, saying, "There is no plan, no thought, no consideration, no discussion of the closure of St. Paul.

"We do not have one single incidence of a detrimental health effect that can be related to the toxic site," he said, "and that is a hopeful sign. Every means should be explored to get it out of here."

Smith, the health department representative, told the audience that although the hazardous wastes at Waste Disposal have not been identified, the drilling sludge dumped there contained lead, flammable petroleum waste, sulfurous waste, which can be explosive or toxic, and phenol and benzene, which affect the central nervous system.

Despite information offered by Smith and other officials at the meeting, some in the audience said they were apprehensive.

"I find all this very scary," Riva Trevino said from the audience. "There are so many unanswered questions. You talk about effects on the nervous system. Is my kid safe? Is the ground water contaminated?"

'No Contamination' City Administrator Powell replied, "The water is not pumped through layers where it could be contaminated. There is absolutely no contamination to this water system."

Mary Helen Espinosa of Montebello, whose daughter Yvette attends St. Paul, said afterward, "This meeting was brought up to ease our worries, but I still feel that they left us in the dark. It's been ranked 39. That tells me it must be more serious than they make it out to be if it's 39 out of 180."

Another parent, Georgina Yanez, said she and others will circulate a petition and launch a letter-writing campaign to legislators to "let them see we're concerned and see if this will speed it (the cleanup)."

Others, like Charles Kennedy, were not as concerned.

"How overly cautious can you be?" said Kennedy, a South Whittier parent of five children who have graduated from St. Paul. "I don't feel any immediate threat to life and health."

Fears for Family Judy Willis, a Whittier resident and a 1967 St. Paul graduate whose two sons have also graduated from the school, said she attended the meeting because she was worried that her family's health might be affected.

But, she said, "I feel satisfied, as much as I can be until they have definite answers."

The dump, a concrete-lined reservoir used for petroleum storage, opened in the 1920s and was used as a disposal site by oil field contractors and operators. It was under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County, which granted the operating permit allowing the dumping of fluids.

In 1954, the county rejected a petition filed by nearby property owners requesting revocation of the permit, according to a history prepared for the city by Beaty.

When the city incorporated in 1957, it continued to grant the permit. The dump reached capacity in 1964 and was covered with dirt, with grading completed in 1967.

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