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Escondido Work to Continue Uninterrupted : $850,000 Earmarked to Clean Up Toxic Chatham Site

Times Staff Writer

Despite a statewide shortfall in money available to clean up toxic waste sites, officials have identified $850,000 in previously unallocated funds that will now be earmarked for cleanup work at the Chatham Brothers toxic site in Escondido.

Jim Marxen, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Services, said the allocation of the funds--plus an additional $150,000 previously set aside for the Chatham site--will mean cleanup work will continue virtually uninterrupted, despite the earlier fear that it would virtually grind to a halt.

A community meeting is set for 7 tonight at Escondido City Hall to further discuss the cleanup activities, Marxen said.

The Chatham site, in a rural but upscale neighborhood of southwestern Escondido, was discovered by San Diego County health officials in 1981 as an abandoned, unregulated recycling center for cleaning solvents. The five-acre site is tainted with PCBs, oil-based cleaning solvent waste and heavy metals, the result of brothers Tom and Robert Chatham dumping their recycling waste products on their property for about 40 years, investigators found.

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Monitoring Wells

Marxen said the $1 million now allocated to the Chatham cleanup will allow the department to determine, by monitoring wells, to what extent the ground water is contaminated at or off the site.

The money will also pay for the removal of barrels still at the site and the scraping off of previously identified toxic surface soil, or “hot spots,” Marxen said.

The work is expected to be completed by October and be financed totally with the $1 million now on hand, Marxen said. Additional funding will be required for an ultimate cleanup, and the job will become more expensive if officials discover that the ground-water supply is contaminated and has leached off the property.

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Voters Approved Funds

Funds for the cleanup of 323 toxic sites in California were authorized in a $100-million bond issue approved by voters in 1984. But last month, officials realized that all but between $1 million and $3 million had been spent, jeopardizing progress at 60 to 70 sites--including Chatham--where work had progressed far enough for actual cleanup activities to begin.

Marxen said officials initially believed the $850,000 in an unallocated reserve account required legislative approval before it could be earmarked for a specific site such as Chatham’s. Only after a rereading of department regulations, he said, did officials realize they could allocate the money immediately, freeing it for the Chatham project.

“We’re more excited than anyone about being able to move forward,” Marxen said.

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