Health Officials Outline Water Testing Plan : Cleanup of Buried Toxics to Take 2 Years

Times Staff Writer

It will take about two years to clean up toxic wastes buried at the Neville Chemical Co. plant and adjacent areas, including a 303-unit condominium project, according to a plan disclosed by state health officials.

The first phase of the cleanup will include tests to determine whether the chemicals have penetrated ground water in the area, state Department of Health Services officials said at a community meeting last week in Norwalk.

"One of the areas we know nothing about is the ground water beneath the facility," said Michael Kavanaugh, a manager in the Department of Health Services' hazardous waste division. "Our principal concern is eliminating contamination between the surface and ground water."

Monitoring Wells Planned

Plans call for 13 monitoring wells on the Neville site, neighboring property leased by Neville, land owned by the City of Santa Fe Springs and the Norwalk Manor condominium property. It will be at least a year before officials know whether the ground water is contaminated, officials said.

The cleanup plan, scheduled to begin in February, also includes investigating whether there are undiscovered buried wastes on the Neville site, monitoring the air and surface water and further soil tests.

Investigators will decide what to do with the waste once the full scope of contamination is known, but officials said they are inclined to contain the chemicals on site rather than dispose of them elsewhere.

The state's action plan is scheduled to be finished in late 1989 and will be subject to a 30-day public comment period before receiving final approval. Neville is paying for the cleanup and has hired Clean Sites Inc. to manage the $2-million project.

Among the 30 people attending the community meeting were a handful of Norwalk Manor residents.

"They took the (soil) samples and never let us know what happened," complained Dodie Bedingfield, president of the Norwalk Manor Assn., which represents the 1,700 residents of the complex. "In the meantime, the concern was . . . if somebody died, it was because of Neville Chemical Co."

At the meeting, health officials reported finding slight dioxin contamination in one of five samples taken on Norwalk Manor property. The contamination level there was 1.3 parts per billion, just above the safety level of one part per billion. On the Neville site itself, dioxin contamination was up to 40 parts per billion.

Built in 1964, Norwalk Manor is surrounded by refineries and industrial plants that frequently create a stench in the area, Bedingfield said.

Kavanaugh said any contamination at the Norwalk Manor site would come from water running off the site, meaning that if chemicals are present they are likely to be near the surface and away from ground water about 90 feet below.

Also attending the meeting were AFL-CIO officials representing former Neville workers who went on strike in May, 1987, over the company's refusal to pay for medical tests to determine if workers had toxic chemicals in the their blood.

Plant Closed in November

Dioxin and furan, suspected of causing cancer in humans, were a byproduct of the chlorinated paraffins produced at the plant after 1962. The plant stopped production when the strike began, then closed last November after selling rights to its chlorinated paraffin process. Chlorinated paraffins are used as metal lubricants and flame retardants, and in paint for traffic lanes.

Brent Hardwick, a union spokesman and former Neville warehouseman, said he was disappointed that health tests for plant workers are not part of the state's cleanup plan.

"The only problem I have . . . is what they're leaving out--and that's the people," Hardwick said. "They're examining the dirt and water. But they say if we find it in you, we won't know what that means.

"We're just asking for health tests. Don't leave us hanging out there like the poor saps who got black lung (from working in coal mines). I don't want to be in that position."

Angelo Bellomo, head of the state's toxic substances control division in Southern California, said there is no proven relationship between chemicals in the blood and toxicity in the environment. He said scientists would not know how to interpret the results of such blood tests.

Conviction Being Appealed

The federal Environmental Protection Agency began investigating soil contamination in 1984 at the Neville site, on the Norwalk-Santa Fe Springs border where Imperial Highway meets the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad tracks.

In 1985, the EPA removed barrels of waste containing dioxins and furans, and in 1986 Neville was convicted of criminal charges related to illegally burying the wastes. The company is appealing the conviction.

Neville also was ordered to pay for paving the adjacent City of Santa Fe Springs property to prevent further migration of contaminated soil and dust.

In November, 1987, Neville sold rights to the chlorinated paraffin manufacturing process to Dover Chemical Corp. of Dover, Ohio, but kept the land. State officials said chemical manufacturing is not likely to resume at the plant.

The Department of Health Services plans to mail newsletters to area residents to report on the cleanup plan, including information about a victim's compensation program for those who may suffer health problems or financial losses such as declining property values as a result of the contamination.

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