Chemicals Sealed for Transit; School Lab Declared Safe

Times Staff Writer

The Lynwood High School chemistry lab storage room, considered a threat to students because it contained some outdated and potentially dangerous chemicals, was declared safe Tuesday by the Department of Health Services.

"The environment is safe for students. There is no problem there now," said Erlinda Macalintal, chemist and hazardous waste specialist with the county health services.

Macalintal had issued a citation Friday against the high school for having hazardous waste in the storage room and directed the school to remove and legally dispose of it immediately.

Macalintal's safe declaration came after a licensed hazardous waste company spent more than 10 hours Monday packing nearly 500 chemicals. The chemicals were in a variety of containers, some with missing or deteriorated labels. One substance was in unmarked jars that had previously contained salad dressing.

Sealed in Metal Drums

All chemicals were taken from the shelves, packaged and sealed in metal drums and locked in the storage room to be transported later to a licensed hazardous waste dumping site.

Jeff Bowman, operations supervisor for Stanton-based American Environmental Management Corp., said his firm would take the chemicals away as soon as the Department of Health Services issues a permit allowing transportation of "extremely hazardous" materials. He said the permit was expected to be issued before the end of this week.

Bowman said the company had been issued such a permit earlier, but found it needed a revised one after discovering more materials in the storage room.

"Everything is in good condition. The permit will allow us to transport the chemicals to a licensed, Class 1 landfill," Bowman said.

The small storage room had been crammed with an array of old chemicals that dated back to the 1960s, Bowman said.

Potential for a Fire

The chemicals, which included sodium, phosphorous and potassium, might have exploded if mixed with water or if there was a fire, Bowman said.

Macalintal said the problem had come to her attention after someone called her office--she believes a parent--to complain about the potential danger.

The call was made after a Jan. 12 school board meeting at which a list of concerns, including hazardous materials, was presented to board members by parents and teachers. The group was accompanied by Lynwood Principal Larry C. Tripplett and Nawal El-Bogdadi, the school's chemistry teacher.

The group also said it was concerned about the lack of heat in some buildings, including the gymnasium and auditorium, the need for more classroom space and a cafeteria for the high school, which has 2,700 students.

El-Bogdadi and Tripplett accused the district of dragging its feet in ridding the lab of the chemicals.

Lynwood Unified School District administrators denied the accusation, and said the issue was being used by Tripplett to campaign for needed school improvements.

William Burr, the district risk manager, said hazardous materials were removed last April from both the high school and the district's only junior high school. Burr said he did not believe that the remaining materials were hazardous.

Burr said, however, that El-Bogdadi was asked to make a list of any remaining materials that needed to be removed. Burr said he had not received such a list until Jan. 13, after the board meeting.

Tripplett, who has been principal at the school since 1985, said a former chemistry teacher had accumulated the materials for about three decades. When El-Bogdadi became the new chemistry teacher, she unlocked the storage room and found the outdated chemicals, Tripplett said.

Last Friday, after inspecting the chemistry lab storage room, Macalintal issued a citation to Tripplett ordering that "all hazardous waste, contaminated materials and including all retrograde chemicals" be removed and legally disposed off.

Retrograde chemicals are those that have exceeded their shelf life or are in a container that is rusting or leaking, Macalintal said.

Burr said that the removal process will cost the district an estimated $10,000.

For her part, El-Bogdadi said, "I'm just glad we got rid of them. It was not safe for students. Now it is."

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