Hazardous petroleum products have been discovered buried in drums at White Point Park in San Pedro, and environmental tests show that some of the liquid contaminated the surrounding soil, an Air Force spokesman said Wednesday.
The Air Force intends to build housing on a 13-acre portion of the former Nike missile base. But those plans were temporarily sidelined two weeks ago, when government contractors digging at the site found eight 55-gallon drums--two of which contained the hazardous material.
The discovery could have serious implications for the remaining 102-acre portion of the undeveloped park, which is owned by the City of Los Angeles and has been considered by state officials for possible use as a state park and nature preserve. A citizens advisory committee in San Pedro is trying to settle a bitter community debate over whether to give White Point to the state or to build city-operated ball fields there. The committee's recommendation is expected in February.
"Of course it concerns us," said a spokesman for Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the area. "The councilwoman would want to make sure that everything is safe before we can designate this for any type of use.'
Lt. Col. J. B. Kump, spokesman for the Air Force Space Division in El Segundo, which will use the housing, said soil samples revealed hydrocarbon compounds, some forms of which consist of suspected carcinogens such as toluene and benzene. He said the Air Force hopes it has removed all of the contaminated soil, but is not certain and will continue testing when weather permits.
"We take it seriously," Kump said. "We're not alarmist about it, but we're not casual either."
White Point, which sits atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific, was deeded to the city in 1978 but the Department of Defense reserved the right to reclaim it for national defense needs. The Air Force did take back the 13 acres this year, but the city got the rest without restrictions after agreeing to turn over the 22-acre Bogdanovich park for additional military housing.
Most of White Point is vacant. There are public vegetable gardens at the southernmost end. The barrels were found at the park's northwestern tip.
Kump said the Air Force intends to do a "grid search" of the entire site, including the city's property, that will involve drilling for evidence of possible contamination at regular intervals.
Discovery of the barrels surprised Air Force officials, who examined the site two years ago and found nothing. Kump said the Army, which controlled the former missile base, has records showing that a fuel tank was buried in the area where the drums were found, but the tank was removed during the past year. Army records showed no evidence of any dumping, Kump said.
According to Kump, the eight drums were found about 10 feet below ground on the side of a gully. One of the barrels was filled with scrap metal, five were found crushed, one was filled and another half-filled with the hazardous material. Kump acknowledged that the crushed barrels could have contained hazardous liquids at one time.
Kump said the contractors accidentally punctured one of the drums containing the material, causing a leak. Between 50 and 80 cubic yards of soil were removed.
Kump also stressed that the hydrocarbons discovered are not as toxic as PCBs or heavy-metal contaminants, and that licensed landfills can accept that type of waste for disposal. The barrels have been moved to the city-owned portion of the park, where they are wrapped in tarpaulins until they can be removed.