The federal government ordered Montrose Chemical Corp. on Wednesday to clean up thousands of cubic yards of DDT-tainted fill in a South Bay neighborhood, maintaining that the contamination came from the long-closed Montrose DDT factory a quarter-mile away.
In an order issued Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring Montrose to undertake the $5-million cleanup along 204th Street in an unincorporated area east of Torrance, where the discovery of DDT more than a year ago prompted a voluntary relocation of many residents.
Today, the neighborhood is a virtual ghost town, as 32 families remain in hotels and rented homes at federal expense until a cleanup is complete.
The EPA order is the latest chapter in a long dispute over what the federal government alleges is broad environmental damage, both on land and offshore, wrought by the former Normandie Avenue factory.
But attorneys for Montrose, once the nation's largest DDT manufacturer, express skepticism that the DDT found along 204th Street is linked to the company, noting that the popular pesticide was widely used in agriculture and mosquito control until 1972, when its use was banned in the United States.
"There is still no evidence that any DDT that is present there came from the Montrose plant," said attorney Karl Lytz of Latham & Watkins, which represents the chemical company. Lytz did not rule out complying with the federal order, saying he already has asked to meet with EPA representatives.
The company was ordered to excavate, transport, treat and dispose of an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 cubic yards of DDT-contaminated fill from around and under eight homes on the north side of 204th Street.
John Lyons, EPA assistant regional counsel, said that if Montrose does not comply, the agency can conduct the work using Superfund money and then go to court to recoup the funds from Montrose.
Lyons said the argument that the back-yard DDT came from sources other than Montrose "really stretches credibility."