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Edison Suspends Cleanup at Toxic Tar Dump

July 31, 1986|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Southern California Edison Co. has temporarily suspended its cleanup of an old Venice coal tar dump after residents and workers along Main Street complained that noxious fumes were causing nausea and headaches.

State and county health officials, who have been monitoring the cleanup at 340 Main St., said they do not believe the contamination poses a serious health hazard, but they have asked the Edison Co. to suspend excavation of the toxic material until further tests are conducted at the 1 1/2-acre site.

"We don't think it is a health hazard at this point, but we don't want to take any chances so we closed it down right away and we advised Southern California Edison to take additional steps to control odors," said William Jones, industrial hygienist in the county Department of Health Services.

Jones said that last week the cleanup work prompted more than a dozen complaints about fumes from the former dump site. The complaints, he said, came from workers at nearby Antioch University Los Angeles, 300 Rose Ave.

As a result, Edison executives met with health officials Monday and agreed to conduct an aggressive public relations campaign about its cleanup efforts and to take steps to reduce odors by covering contaminants and limiting emissions from diesel trucks.

To date, Edison has spent $1 million to remove a portion of the contaminated soil to a dump site near Bakersfield. Company executives say they plan to conduct the removal in three phases--clearing debris from the site, taking samples to determine the extent of the contamination, and finally removing the waste material.

Edison has taken the responsibility for removing the black tar because the contamination is the result of dumping by one of its subsidiary companies that manufactured gas on the site nearly 70 years ago, said Colleen Doyle, environmental operations specialist for Edison.

Edison, which owned the plant between 1909 and 1916, manufactured gas from oil and coal. The waste products were used to create roofing material or dumped on the site, Doyle said.

The materials consist of petroleum-based hydrocarbons, Doyle said. Air samples taken at the site have detected small traces of benzene and naphthalene--two substances considered cancer-causing if inhaled in large amounts.

She said that Edison will take soil samples to determine the extent of the contamination.

News of the contamination has Antioch University officials concerned that the publicity will hurt their ability to attract students. One school official said she did not want the university to be known as Toxic Waste University.

"News linking us to a toxic dump site could be real problematic to us in terms of our enrollment," said Kenneth Smith, dean of the university, a liberal arts school with 400 students. "We have been assured by people in the health department that it does not pose a health problem."

However, receptionist Abigail Lawrence said she was overcome by affects of the fumes last week.

"I found it hard to concentrate on things and I experienced headaches," she said. "I felt like I was catching a cold, my temper was short and I was extremely irritable and there was a metallic taste in my mouth."

She said she thought she was coming down with a cold until she learned that other office workers experienced the same symptoms.

Excavation for Garage

James Smith, a program manager for the toxic substance control division of the state Health Services Department, said: "Before we tell them to remove it, we want to know more about what it is and where it is. We don't want to think we are dealing with a mouse and it turns out to be an elephant."

The foul-smelling contaminated soil was discovered shortly after work began in May on a subterranean garage for a three-story office building for Chiat-Day Inc., an advertising agency.

Construction on the office building has been stopped until Edison completes the cleanup, said Steve Hunt, a spokesman for Chiat-Day. "They have assumed the responsibility for the cleanup and our project has taken a back seat."

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