IRVINE : More Testing Ahead as PCE Found in Soil

County health officials said Friday they will order more soil tests at a Mola Centre development after a recent study found a high level of a toxic industrial solvent close to a recently completed apartment building.

Irvine also plans to withhold city occupancy permits for the apartment buildings until it is satisfied that the level of perchloroethylene is safe.

The 560-unit apartment complex, being built by Forest City Development Corp. near Jamboree Road and Campus Drive, is part of the 40-acre Mola Centre that has been plagued by problems and lawsuits over contaminated soil. Forest City and Mola Development have sued the former landowner, alleging its cleanup of the site was inadequate.

Perchloroethylene, or PCE, is suspected to have come from leaking underground storage tanks used by the Beckman Instruments plant that used to be on the site.

Developers plan to build homes, office towers, a hotel, a restaurant, a health club, a movie theater and other facilities at the site, which is near the San Joaquin Marsh.

The apartment buildings on the site are nearing completion. The Forest City firm had hoped to receive an occupancy permit for one of the buildings next week, said Burt Pines, an attorney for the developer.

The developer is relaying its information about the contamination to the city and county in a bid to persuade officials that the levels are not hazardous, Pines said.

Environmental consultants hired by Forest City have determined that the levels pose no health risk, he said.

On Monday, before Irvine was aware of the contamination concern, the city issued Forest City a temporary occupancy permit for its leasing office and recreation building, which are near the contaminated site.

But until the city is satisfied that the level of PCE poses no threat to residents, Irvine will withhold occupancy permits for the apartment buildings, development services director Robert C. Johnson said Friday.

The PCE concentration--measuring 3,000 parts per billion--is three times the maximum that the county's Health Department permitted earlier this year to remain in the soil in a different area of Mola Centre.

But the 3,000-parts-per-billion level is 16 feet below the surface, Pines said. At that level and depth, the PCE presents a cancer risk 8,000 times lower than what federal standards permit, he said.

The county's environmental health department has not decided yet whether the newly discovered PCE would be a risk to residents of the apartments, said William Diekmann, manager for the hazardous materials mitigation program.

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