The Los Angeles Unified School District is under orders to remove more than 100 boxes and about 30 barrels of hazardous chemicals stored in a building less than 100 yards from four Van Nuys schools, city fire and health officials said Thursday.
Fire Capt. Al Brakke of the Fire Department's Valley Fire Prevention Bureau said some chemicals stored in the district's Science Materials Center at 6625 Balboa Blvd. could pose a health threat to district employees, students and firefighters if mishandled or if the building caught fire.
The accumulation of chemicals in the building points up a problem the district is encountering in storing and disposing of hazardous materials from its school laboratories. This week's incident marks the third time in two years that fire and health officials have warned the school district of what they believe to be a dangerous situation.
The building, which for years has been used to store and dispense chemicals to more than 150 high school and junior high school science labs, was ordered closed by fire inspectors Tuesday and is being guarded by school district police until the materials are removed.
Battalion Chief Sam Crisa, commander of the industrial and commercial section of the Fire Prevention Bureau, said fire and county Health Department inspectors found containers of acid packaged in cardboard boxes stacked on or alongside boxes containing cyanide. Acid and cyanide are ingredients used in gas chambers.
If the ingredients were to be mixed, Crisa said, "A few whiffs could cause immediate death."
Inspectors also discovered acid in a near-crystallized form, which could make it highly explosive, Crisa said, along with other corrosive materials and flammable liquids and solids.
Issued 8 Citations
The county Health Department inspected the facility Thursday morning and, later in the afternoon, cited the school district for eight state Health and Safety Code and California Administrative Code violations.
The three-page citation, delivered to School Board President Rita D. Walters, directs the school district to begin removing the chemicals today, said county Health Department spokeswoman Toby Milligan. Although the citation mentions no deadline or potential punishment if action is not taken, it does order that the district stop storing hazardous chemicals in the building.
The 50-by-250-foot Science Materials Center is less than 30 yards from the West Valley School for handicapped students and is part of a complex that includes an administrative office, Birmingham High School, Mulholland Junior High School and Valley Alternative Magnet School.
0 "We are saying that it is not a suitable location," Milligan said. "There are potential health and safety hazards to the schools and nearby residences."
The district plans to cooperate with health and fire regulations and, if necessary, will move the center to another location, most likely school property at the former Fort MacArthur site in San Pedro, said Assistant Supt. William C. Rivera.
"If they want to tell us what's wrong and let us in there to clean it out, we'll do it," Rivera said. "We want to cooperate as fully as possible."
Rivera said that, for the last year, the district has been inspecting school labs and "cleaning out" chemicals that, under recent state legislation, have been deemed unsuitable for use by students. He said he was under the impression that the district was working with the Fire Department in its program to dispose of chemicals at a hazardous waste facility in Casmalia, near Santa Barbara.
The district hired a licensed carrier to move the discarded chemicals to Casmalia, Rivera said, but he did not know the name of the company hired. Fire officials said they believe the district used a licensed carrier in shipping chemicals to Casmalia, but suspect that non-licensed district employees transported the chemicals from the schools to the Science Materials Center.
Rivera said that, because he was first notified of the problem on Tuesday, he has been unsuccessful in getting in touch with employees in the school district's safety programs.
"I can't find them," Rivera said.
Not Available to Press
Jack Waldron, the district's safety programs supervisor, could not be reached for comment. A woman who returned telephone calls for Waldron and an associate, Susie Wong, said neither would be available to talk to the press.
Brakke and Crisa were hesitant to blame the school district for the buildup of hazardous materials in the building.
"Faulting the school district, well, I don't think we should do that," Brakke said. "They may have been dragging a little bit, but I don't believe they realized they had that much stuff in there."