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'Band-Aid' Effort : A Layer of Sludge Removed at Tract

October 30, 1987|DAVE REYES | Times Staff Writer

The state finished its remedial cleanup Thursday in the Westminster neighborhood where an abandoned waste dump is buried, digging up enough tar-like sludge to fill 25 drums, each containing 55 gallons.

Thursday was the final day for gathering only that acidic substance that had seeped to the surface in some backyards, said Robert Borzelleri, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Services in Sacramento.

This week's project is just a stopgap effort--described to residents by one state health official as a "Band-Aid" approach--and not the actual cleanup that the state will probably order, Borzelleri said.

"The contractor which collected the sludge is expected to provide us with a draft report in November, and by January we should have a pretty good idea of what we should do about the area," Borzelleri said.

Preliminary results of tests completed earlier this month by state health officials showed low levels of a suspected cancer-causing substance, benzene, and two other toxic hydrocarbon solvents--xylene and toluene--in the abandoned dump.

While some residents praised the state's efforts, others questioned the need for this week's preliminary cleanup.

'It'll Just Come Back'

"I asked them why they're taking it away when they came to our house Wednesday," said John Southerland, 17.

"It'll just come back again. The stuff has been coming back to the surface for nine years now."

In fact, one resident quoted a state health official who visited the neighborhood as saying that this week's cleanup "was more or less putting a Band-Aid on the problem."

The sludge, believed to be from refinery wastes that had been dumped for decades, was first discovered shortly after the site was covered with dirt and concrete and turned into home lots in 1958. The tract is just east of the San Diego Freeway at the Golden West Street off-ramp.

The tract's developer relocated the waste in two large trenches that were covered with dirt and concrete.

Betty Schilling, a 27-year neighborhood resident, recalled the problem she and her husband, Don, encountered when contractors dug a large hole in their backyard for a pool.

"About 22 years ago, we put in a pool, and the workmen hit the tar layer. After they put steel reinforcements down, the tar substance would just seep through," Schilling said.

"We know that we have the tar about 12 feet down. But we've had our dogs eat the grass back there, and they've lived to be 18 years old. We've never had any health problems."

But about 25 families in the 73-home tract have complained of seepage of a smelly, tar-like substance in their backyards, damage to cement and patio floors, and, in some cases, persistent coughs.

The state's contractor, American Environmental Management Corp., said the drums will be stored in locked trailer at the site, ready for eventual shipment to Casmalia landfill in Santa Barbara.

About 11 of the 25 drums collected were filled from the backyard of one residence, a spokesman for the environmental company said.

City, county and state officials are scheduled to meet today to discuss results of preliminary soil, air, and water tests.

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