Residents living in a Westminster housing tract built on top of an abandoned toxic waste dump have been told that it may be three to five years before a cleanup begins.
Angelo Bellomo, head of the state Department of Health Services toxics division in Southern California told about 35 residents Friday, "we don't have the amount of information we would need to evaluate the site fully" and justify an immediate cleanup.
Preliminary results of tests completed earlier this month by state health officials indicated low levels of a suspected cancer-causing substance, benzene, and two other toxic hydrocarbon solvents--xylene and toluene--in the abandoned dump. Refineries disposed of wastes there until the 1950s, when the site was covered and turned into housing lots.
Studies Cause Delay
State studies providing data for a cleanup plan could take 18 months to two years, Bellomo told the residents and representatives of area health, water district and air quality agencies meeting at Westminster Civic Center, "so it could be another three to five years until a plan is implemented."
Bellomo added that more tests are needed to determine whether families living in the 73-home tract may suffer any long-range health effects, but he said that a tar-like sludge that has been seeping into residents' backyards "presents no immediate health hazard."
Based on chemical analysis of samples of the sludge, state officials believe that the material is made up of hydrocarbon byproducts derived from the first distillation of crude oil, but the refineries responsible for dumping them have not been identified.
"We'll look at local oil refineries who were operating at that time and also some of the bigger ones in other areas," said John Scandura, a supervisor for the state Department of Health Services.
Some residents of the neighborhood said after the meeting that they were not satisfied with the state's assurances about the threat to their health.
"I want to know what they mean by low levels of toxic materials," Debra Ellis said.
Traces of the sludge have been seeping into swimming pools and backyards in the area for years. But earlier this year it began appearing in greater quantities, prompting the tests of soil, water and gas samples by state health officials that were completed earlier last month.
Last week, a private environmental company hired by the state removed enough of the sludge from yards in the neighborhood to fill about 25 drums holding 55 gallons each. Bellomo said the program will continue.