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EPA Seals Off Toxic Waste Site for Cleanup : Residents Evacuate Homes Next to Abandoned Metal Finishing Plant

May 14, 1987|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

MONROVIA — Ten people who live near an abandoned metal plating company have been temporarily moved from their homes while a federal agency begins an emergency cleanup of toxic wastes.

The $400,000 cleanup of cyanides, acids and cadmium at Abco Metal Finishing, 1621 S. Myrtle Ave., is expected to take until the end of the month, said Matthew Monsees, on-scene coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Health officials said they will test the 10 residents, who were moved to a hotel primarily for their safety during the cleanup, for possible contamination.

"The people were evacuated because we found significant contamination on the Abco site," Monsees said, "so we have to assume the possibility of off-site migration."

Dr. Paul Papanek of the county toxics epidemiology program said the odds are slight that the residents, who live in two houses next to the plant, have absorbed dangerous levels of the chemicals. The only real danger appears to involve cadmium, a chemical contained in heavy metals, which can cause kidney damage, he said.

"The soil is contaminated with heavy metals containing cadmium," Papanek said, "so it is conceivable that if they ingested soil they could later suffer kidney damage. But the soil probably has been contaminated for no more than two years."

No one else lives near the plant, which was abandoned in February.

The residents, who will remain in a hotel for at least a month, could not be reached for comment. Officials said they will eventually be allowed to return to their homes.

"We can clean up their property if necessary," Monsees said.

The most dangerous part of the cleanup, the pumping of vats containing 10,000 gallons of cyanides, will begin at midnight on Monday.

If the chemical is released into the air it is highly toxic, Monsees said, and can cause respiratory failure, organ damage and skin burns.

Only a few small businesses are near the plant. The only one that remains open during the night, when the cleanup will take place, is a gas station that will close during the pumping next week.

As a precaution, the area on Myrtle Avenue between Pomona Avenue and Duarte Road will be off-limits to the public from midnight Monday until 8 a.m. Tuesday and again from midnight Tuesday until 8 a.m. Wednesday. No one is being allowed within 150 feet of the plant during the cleanup.

After the cyanide cleanup, the EPA will pump out vats containing 5,000 gallons of various acids and begin soil testing to determine the extent of the contamination and how far it has spread.

Some of the vats of acids and cyanides developed leaks, but officials are uncertain how much of the chemicals escaped.

During a routine inspection in January, the Monrovia Fire Department discovered safety violations in the storage of potassium cyanide and sulfuric acid at the business. A month later, the plant was abandoned by its owner, Eddie Knipe, who told officials he was ill and could not afford to clean up the property. Knipe could not be reached for comment.

Because the chemicals can pose problems if not stored properly, the EPA was asked to test samples taken from the vats, said Walter Uroff, senior industrial hygienist for the county's hazardous waste control program.

The EPA began testing April 2 and authorized the cleanup on April 30.

"This is considered an emergency because the site was abandoned and so it was not secure (from vandals)," Monsees said. "The vats weren't covered so the material was evaporating, and several were so deteriorated they had started leaking."

The material will be placed in sealed containers and taken to toxic waste dumps or treatment plants in Utah or Nevada. Officials said moving the chemicals will not be dangerous, and will be done at night to minimize traffic problems.

Housing costs and a living allowance are being provided to Lucky Dootson, owner of the houses, and the other nine people living there by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Janet Bennett, public information coordinator for Monrovia.

Although EPA is paying for the work through its Superfund for toxic cleanup, it expects to be reimbursed, Monsees said. "It's too early to tell how we will recover the money," he said.

But since Knipe's property is not worth even half the cost of the cleanup, Bennett said, the city expects that the EPA will end up footing the bill.

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