Torrance Plant Didn't Taint Soil, County Finds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Torrance foundry that air quality officials say is emitting excessive amounts of toxic lead dust does not appear to have seriously contaminated soil in the area, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department.

Lead concentrations in four soil samples collected this month on property near the Martin Brass Foundry, 2341 Jefferson St., fall well within the range that the county considers acceptable, health officials said this week.

They said the test results remove a key concern--that airborne lead from the foundry may have accumulated in large quantities on the ground in the area, posing a threat to public health.

Paul Papanek, chief of the Health Department's toxics epidemiology program, said Wednesday that his agency had been particularly concerned about young children who play in nearby Charles Wilson Community Park, and who may eat the dirt.

"Kids up to the age of about 3 or 4 swallow anywhere from a tenth to a half a teaspoon of dirt a day," Papanek said.

Though worries about ground contamination have apparently eased, air quality officials are still concerned about air pollution from the foundry, which makes a wide range of brass products for the construction industry.

Breathing lead in high concentrations can cause neurological problems, particularly in children, and has been linked to high blood pressure in adults.

The concern surfaced last month when the South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that it had detected excessive lead pollutants in the air near the facility.

The AQMD is scheduled to argue Oct. 17 in Los Angeles Superior Court that the foundry should be held in contempt for violating a Sept. 4 injunction limiting its lead emissions.

The injunction, by Superior Court Judge John Zebrowski, prohibits the foundry from emitting more than three micrograms of lead per liter of air. The AQMD said it detected airborne lead levels of more than four micrograms per liter after the injunction was issued.

Charles Ivie, an attorney for the foundry, said Martin Brass has steadily reduced lead emissions since August by scaling back operations and improving its pollution control system. More work on the system is expected, he said.

"We hope that with the continuing measures we're taking, that by the time we get to this hearing date, there will be a demonstrated pattern of low emission levels," Ivie said.

AQMD prosecutor Joseph Panasiti said that besides seeking a contempt order Oct. 17, he plans to request that Zebrowski lower the lead limit governing Martin Brass to one microgram per liter.

He pointed out that the federal standard for lead in ambient air--in this case, the air surrounding the foundry property--is 1.5 micrograms per liter. He said the tighter standard he is seeking would provide a margin of safety.

Said Panasiti: "My attitude is they can do anything they want, but they can't (be allowed to) keep affecting our air."

Ivie said the foundry will ask that the limit be increased to at least six micrograms per liter or eliminated altogether.

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