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EPA to Run More Tests for DDT at Former Montrose Toxic-Waste Site

March 23, 1986|BILL JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to take earth and underground water samples from depths of up to 240 feet at the former Montrose Chemical Corp. toxic-waste site near Torrance to determine the extent of DDT contamination.

The new round of tests is expected to push back the final cleanup of the Montrose site until at least mid-1987, or about 1 1/2 years beyond the government's initial target date, the EPA said.

Testing is expected to begin after a March 31 deadline for comment by residents on the testing plan, which was made public earlier this month.

A number of residents said they believe the call for more testing is merely an attempt by Montrose and the government to stall the cleanup.

"It doesn't surprise me that they've pushed it back another year," said Susan Armstrong of Torrance. "And to tell you the truth, I personally don't think they much care."

The EPA said the latest testing is required because samples taken last year at a depth of about 80 feet showed the presence of DDT and other toxic chemicals associated with its manufacture, suggesting that deeper ground water might also be contaminated.

The EPA said it will drill to depths of between 100 and 145 feet into four aquifers beneath the dump. Soil tests will go even deeper.

DDT, a pesticide suspected of causing cancer, was manufactured by Montrose for about 35 years. It was banned in the United States in 1972.

"Essentially, we're still trying to get a handle on the true nature and extent of the contamination at Montrose," said Terry Wilson, an EPA spokesman. "We do feel that the results from this new sampling will provide the information we need to find out exactly what we're up against and to implement the final cleanup process."

The agency previously estimated that a list of options for the cleanup of Montrose, currently on the federal Superfund list of toxic waste sites that need immediate attention, would be compiled by the end of 1985 or the first quarter of this year.

Both EPA and state health officials said that residents in the area of the dump site, along Del Amo Boulevard near Normandie and Vermont avenues, face no serious health risks.

In 1982, residents complained of mysterious health problems such as chest pains, vomiting and watery eyes. An EPA investigation revealed unusually high concentrations of DDT in surface water runoff and sediments leaving the Montrose property. Further investigation showed that soil at the former Montrose manufacturing site contained 300 to 400 tons of the banned pesticide.

$1 Million Spent

The area was paved over to restrict surface runoff and fumes, but the EPA said there is no evidence that DDT caused the health problems.

The EPA and Montrose are sharing the costs of the testing and cleanup, but the EPA is supervising the operation. So far at least $1 million has been spent, Wilson said.

David Mulliken, a San Diego attorney representing Montrose, said that although the chemical concern is cooperating fully with the EPA on the additional testing, it does not necessarily agree with the agency's methods.

"They are taking a cookbook approach to the site work," Mulliken said. "The cookbook has 30 chapters and the EPA believes it has to fill in each chapter.

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