Santa Fe Springs OKs Growth Near Toxic Site

September 01, 1985|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

SANTA FE SPRINGS — The city Redevelopment Agency has cleared the way for further industrial development near a toxic waste site after reviewing an environmental report that said the dump poses no health threat to nearby areas--including a high school.

The former Waste Disposal Inc. site was ranked 55th on the state's August list of worst toxic waste sites targeted for cleanup. The state says cleanup is at least two years away. A $60,000 report commissioned by the city said that contaminants at the site and adjacent to it were not in the ground water, or, with the exception of lead, in the topsoil.

Richard Weaver, city director of planning and development, said the study "didn't indicate there was an immediate problem. If there had been, our actions would be quite different."

Four developers have indicated that they want to build in the area, which is dotted with light and heavy manufacturing, Weaver said.

The 37-acre site, containing a concrete-lined reservoir used to dispose of drilling mud and other oil field wastes from 1928 to 1965, now stands fenced and vacant except for a small section used for recreational vehicle storage. The site was covered with fill dirt in 1967.

Development in the surrounding area came to a halt in October,

1983, when the state Department of Health Services notified the city that the site might contain hazardous wastes. City officials stopped issuing building permits within 2,000 feet of the site until a study could be done.

When the city found that the state could not conduct an investigation of the site for two or three years, the city paid for its own study to speed up pending development. Weaver said the city was also concerned about the safety of students at St. Paul High School, which is next to the dump site.

Developers Affected

The moratorium affected four developers with various projects, including a proposed residential condominium project within 1,200 feet of the site, Weaver said. The developer of that project withdrew during the moratorium, but the property owner, Kenny Ball, said the property is once again in escrow with another developer who wants to build light-industrial buildings for lease.

Each proposed project will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, said Fred Latham, assistant city manager, adding that he foresees no problem with developing property that does not adjoin the dump site.

Development on the site itself and immediately adjacent properties will not be allowed until further studies, and cleanup, if needed, are conducted. More testing is needed on the adjoining properties to determine if there is any hazardous waste on those sites, Weaver said.

The adjoining sites include all property between the site and Greenleaf Avenue to the east, Los Nietos Road to the south and Santa Fe Springs Road to the west. The site shares its northern boundary with the high school and other heavy-industrial developments.

Dean Hargis, a senior scientist with Dames & Moore, the Santa Barbara firm that conducted the study for the city, said that hydrocarbon contaminants, such as benzene, were found at the site.

No Migration Found

"The key to the study is that there is no indication that the wastes in the sump were migrating off the site--either downward into the ground water or outward to the surrounding soil," Hargis said. Most of the wastes found were heavy metals and petroleum byproducts.

Five out of 35 soil samples tested for surface contamination contained elevated levels of lead. However, that is "not necessarily cause for alarm," Hargis said.

Jim Smith, a program manager in the state Department of Health Services toxic substances control division, said that at the levels detected, the lead does not pose a health hazard through either direct contact or inhalation. But he said lead is a concern because of its potential to contaminate ground water.

Access to the site has been restricted as a precautionary measure, Smith said. "There is not a risk of exposing people directly," Smith said, but "we don't know exactly what's there."

Before the site can be cleaned up or developed, there would have to be another, more detailed study to determine the type and extent of the contaminants, Smith said.

"We do want a more detailed look, especially considering the location," he said.

City officials said they will now wait for the state to conduct the site-characterization study and proceed with cleanup.

Projected Cost

The projected cost of cleaning the site is $10.4 million, with an estimated completion date of June, 1987, said Sue Sher, a state Department of Health Services spokeswoman. The current and, in some cases, previous owners and operators of toxic waste sites are held responsible for the costs of the investigation and cleanup.

If the responsible parties refuse to pay for the cleanup, the state will do it and can attempt to recover three times the amount of the cleanup cost in court, Sher said.

The site is owned by Marvin Pitts and Adeline Bennett. Bennett said she bought the property in 1979 to develop small-industrial buildings for lease. She added that she is waiting for the state to clean up the site so she can start developing.

"I sure would like to have it cleaned up. Let the state do it. I didn't do it. They're putting the blame on everyone," Bennett said, adding that she doesn't know what she would do if the state tries to charge her for the cleanup.

The $100-million state Superfund, a bond measure approved by voters in November to clean up toxic waste sites, has yet to be allocated by the state Legislature. Until then, Health Services Department officials are hoping the owners and responsible parties will voluntarily clean up the sites.

"We cannot threaten the responsible parties with cleanup until we can back it up," said Smith, adding that there is no authorization in the department's current budget to spend money investigating and cleaning up sites.

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