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Westminster Sludge Pit Put on List for Superfund Cleanup

November 12, 1987|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

A Westminster neighborhood built on an abandoned oil industry waste pit, an area where tarlike toxic sludge has been seeping into backyards and swimming pools, has been placed on the state's Superfund cleanup list, a state official said Wednesday.

John Scandura, a supervisor in the state Department of Health Services office in Los Angeles, and other state officials said the addition of the Westminster site means that cleanup efforts can get under way and will be paid for through the state's $100-million Superfund program.

State health officials had asked the state Legislature to include the neighborhood on the Superfund project list three months ago, said Robert Borzelleri, a spokesman for the toxics division of the state Department of Health Services. The approval came this week.

News Pleases Residents

Residents such as Debra Ellis, who have expressed concern about the environmental danger, said they were pleased by the news.

"Even if it takes five years or so to clean this up, it's still good news. We're happy that we're included on the list," Ellis said.

The decision to add the neighborhood to the state's cleanup plan came just weeks after a state analysis of soil, water and air samples found a suspected carcinogen and other toxic chemicals in the Westminster neighborhood.

The chemicals are similar to those found at the abandoned McColl hazardous-waste dump in Fullerton, a former dump for aviation fuel byproducts, drilling muds and other refinery waste. The McColl site is on both the federal and state Superfund lists for eventual cleanup.

The Westminster test results indicated low levels of a substance suspected of causing cancer, benzene, and two other toxic hydrocarbon solvents--xylene and toluene--in the abandoned dump.

Two weeks ago, about 25 drums of the sludge, 55 gallons each, were removed by a state contractor after the state took what it termed remedial action to limit exposure to people and pets.

The toxic waste, believed to be oil field wastes deposited from the 1930s through the 1950s, had been dumped into a pit. The wastes were later removed and put in two large trenches, then covered with dirt and concrete. Homes were then built on top in the neighborhood, which is just east of the San Diego Freeway near the Golden West Street off-ramp.

Residents in about 25 of the 73 homes have reported backyard seepage and cracking of cement floors in kitchens, living rooms and patios. Some residents have complained of persistent coughs, which they have attributed to the acrid odors of the sludge, especially during hot summer months.

State officials have said the wastes pose no immediate health threat. But they are uncertain about what, if any, long-term health effects can be caused by living above the site.

"The real issue is that we don't have a whole lot of evidence of exposure. It's basically an acidic refinery waste, but there is no contamination of drinking water," Borzelleri said.

He said the health threat would not be as great as if "you were to go out to a newly paved road and pick up some of the hot asphalt left over."

Mari Golub, a state toxicologist, said state epidemiologists have been closely monitoring field tests "as they come in."

Golub said a testing screen on highly hazardous chlorinated hydrocarbons has so far been negative.

"Metals have also not shown any hazardous level, and gases are not under any high pressures or of the concentrations for people living there to be of concern," she said.

"The analytical results, so far, indicate that the acidic wastes were used as an acid to facilitate the cracking and refinery process in the 1930s and 1940s," she said.

Borzelleri said state officials are trying determine what parties are responsible for the initial dumping so they can try to recover costs for the cleanup.

State officials are expected to discuss test results with residents at a community meeting scheduled Thursday at the Westminster City Hall.

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