Developers of a 15-acre business complex in Santa Monica are scheduled Friday to give state health officials their plans for removing two mounds contaminated with toxic chemicals at the site.
Last week, the state Department of Health Services denied a request by Southmark Pacific Corp. to dispose of the waste by hauling it to a conventional dump site. The state cited concern over lead and petroleum-based hydrocarbons discovered in the dirt.
The waste was excavated from a construction site at Colorado Place, which formerly was the site of a garbage dump. The complex at 26th Street and Colorado Avenue now consists of three office buildings, several restaurants and a preschool. Southmark, the owner, is expanding the complex to include three additional structures and a public park.
Concern over the site was first voiced in July, 1985, by an environmental group called PITS, People Investigating Toxic Sites. Janice England, the organization's director, had called for soil testing because the site was the location of a Beverly Hills city dump in the 1940s and '50s. In response, Southmark volunteered to conduct soil, air and ground-water tests in June.
Engineers conducting the tests discovered lead and hydrocarbons and the contaminated dirt was piled into two mounds, Robbie Monsma, senior vice president of commercial development for Southmark, said.
The state is expected to decide on the details of the move in two to four weeks. State officials have estimated that the removal of the contaminated dirt could take an additional two months.
"Whenever they approve the plan, we will start moving," Monsma said. She estimated that the cost of the cleanup could reach $2 million.
John Scandura, a hazardous-materials expert with the Health Services Department, said this week that his agency's main concern is possible lead exposure to pupils at Hill An' Dale Family Learning Center. The preschool is about 100 feet south of the two piles, and Scandura has advised Southmark to cover the mounds with a tarpaulin to prevent children from playing in the dirt.
This fall, parents of children at the preschool complained to the city about foul odors, which were later traced to a faulty diesel engine being used on the site. However, the initial concern over the fumes alerted the parents to the problem of the toxic materials.
"Anything involving lead gives us cause for concern," said UCLA Prof. Robert Gottlieb, whose 3-year-old son attends Hill An' Dale, which has 40 pupils ages 2 to 5. "It doesn't necessarily translate into a problem right now, but we're concerned."
Gottlieb has asked state officials to require further chemical testing before another round of excavation begins next summer. England, who lives in Venice, has petitioned the state to take even stricter measures and halt all construction until more tests are done. She also has urged that trucks be covered at all times when hauling contaminated dirt, and that a government official be present on site.
Monsma said one of Southmark's proposals would allow the hydrocarbon pile to remain at the site while engineers employ a new kind of technology that neutralizes the toxic properties of the hydrocarbons. The lead would be hauled to a hazardous-waste dump near Bakersfield.
Scandura said that the state is uneasy about allowing the hydrocarbons to remain at the site, however, and that he would prefer a speedy removal of the toxic waste. "I don't feel comfortable with the stuff sitting out there any longer than it has to be," he said.