Tests find acceptable lead levels in Jordan Downs soil, regulators say

Craig McGruder sweeps the sidewalk leading to his sons' home in the Jordan Downs housing complex in Watts.
Craig McGruder sweeps the sidewalk leading to his sons’ home in the Jordan Downs housing complex in Watts.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Soil tests at the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts detected acceptable levels of lead that do not require cleanup, state toxic waste regulators have concluded.

Los Angeles housing officials conducted lead screening in July under orders from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to determine whether lead contamination on a vacant, city-owned parcel extended onto land where more than 2,500 of the city’s poorest residents live.

The sampling for harmful metals, conducted within portions of the 700-unit complex that border the vacant site, detected lead concentrations ranging from 23 to 145 parts per million. Of the 30 soil samples taken, 14 exceeded 80 ppm, the level at which California recommends further health screenings for residential properties.


The concentrations detected “are similar to those found in urban areas of Los Angeles,” the state toxics department said in a recent letter to the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles. The letter concludes that “no further action is necessary with regards to the metals in surface soils at the Jordan Downs housing development.”

The sampling stemmed from the housing authority’s plan to remove and replace contaminated soil from 21 acres of former industrial land next to the housing project. The site, purchased by the city in 2008, is being cleaned up for a major revitalization project.

The walled-off parcel next to Jordan Downs, known as “the factory” site, is tainted with lead, arsenic, oil and cancer-causing chemicals from years of use as a steel mill and truck repair facility. Last year community groups and residents became concerned that the soil contamination extended into their yards and pressed authorities to conduct additional sampling within the housing complex.

The housing authority said it is moving forward with cleanup of the adjacent site.

“We are delighted that after testing of environmental conditions and analysis at Jordan Downs, DTSC has advised us that no further analysis at Jordan Downs is necessary,” Douglas Guthrie, head of the city’s housing authority, said in a news release Thursday announcing the state’s findings.

Parts of the complex were also tested for gas vapor from polluted groundwater, but toxics regulators said the soil probes did not find anything at levels that warrant further action.

Community groups said the fact that some of the results were elevated is concerning and urged housing officials to conduct additional soil testing.

Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said she reviewing the findings and sharing them with outside experts to make sure they are protective of residents.

Argüello said she is skeptical of the state’s conclusions “because the [toxics] department does not have a good track record of being able to adequately clean up messes.”

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