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Residents Blast Plans to Pave Toxic Dump : Environment: EPA's preferred option of sealing the buried wastes under plastic and asphalt will result in little more than an unsafe and ugly parking lot, residents say.


SANTA FE SPRINGS — The Environmental Protection Agency has devised a plan to pave over a toxic waste dump in Santa Fe Springs, but local residents blasted the proposal, saying it would result in nothing more than an ugly parking lot that would not protect them from dangerous chemicals.

For six years, state and federal officials have pondered what to do with the 43-acre Waste Disposal Inc. site at Santa Fe Springs and Los Nietos roads. Studies have found it is contaminated with chemicals, including arsenic, benzene, benzopyrene and polychlorinated biphenyls, suspected of causing brain damage and cancer.

About half of the property is open land. It would be covered first with a layer of plastic sheeting, then topped with asphalt, so it looks "basically, like a parking lot," EPA Project Manager Rusty Harris-Bishop said.

The open area is surrounded by businesses, vacant warehouses and parking lots, which would remain intact under the plan.

"There's no cleanup," Santa Fe Springs City Councilman Al Sharp said. "They're going to cover (the dump) with dust the way a cat covers up its droppings, and say 'What a great agency we are.' "

The asphalt and plastic would keep rainwater from carrying the chemicals into underground aquifers and contaminating drinking water, officials said.

The project would cost $5.5 million, including the cost of monitoring the landfill for 30 years.

Six other alternatives range from just planting grass and erecting a barbed-wire fence around the dump to excavating the site and disposing of the contaminated soil elsewhere.

Although those alternatives have not been rejected, Harris-Bishop said, officials prefer paving over the landfill because that is the most effective way of sealing-in the contaminants.

The agency does not want to do a more extensive excavation, Harris-Bishop said. If truckloads of contaminated soil were transported on public streets to another dump, it would greatly increase the risk of exposure to contaminated dust, he said.

A complete excavation would cost an estimated $120 million, about 25 times more than the preferred plan.

Under the EPA-backed proposal, workers would excavate contaminated soil from a vacant corner of the property and move it to the area that would be sealed with asphalt. That would allow the vacant land to be developed.

But the proposal has drawn fire from the community and city leaders. They say the asphalt would be an eyesore, and they wonder whether it will make the area safe.

At a meeting last week, parents of students who attend St. Paul High School, located just north of the dump, attacked the EPA plan. Parent Virginia Aguilar said she worries that earthmovers will raise clouds of contaminated dust.

"We have children playing there every day, playing hard," said Aguilar, whose daughter attends the school.

St. Paul's principal, Father Robert Gallagher, said other parents also are worried about the risks. When football season starts, students are out on the school's athletic fields every day.

Harris-Bishop said studies indicate the contamination is concentrated about five or more feet below ground, not in the topsoil. But if the EPA plan is approved, workers would try to minimize the dust by watering down the soil.

Although none of the three local wells used for drinking water is believed to be affected, officials plan to conduct tests to determine whether chemicals from the Waste Disposal dump is moving off-site.

Water samples taken at the high school have shown high levels of trichloroethylene, a chemical suspected of causing cancer. Officials do not know whether the chemical came from the dump.

The Waste Disposal dump is one of several hazardous waste landfills that dot industrial areas that were once oil fields in Santa Fe Springs. Beginning in 1920, it was used to store sludge and other wastes generated by oil drilling. It also served as a receptacle for industrial wastes until it was closed in 1965.

Today most of the dump is vacant, bulldozed years ago when the contamination was discovered. Signs in Spanish saying "Danger--Hazardous Materials Area," and a cyclone fence warn trespassers to stay away. The only signs of life are wildflowers and patches of sunflowers and scraggly clumps of tumbleweed.

About 20 businesses still operate around the dump, including storage yards for recreational vehicles and heavy equipment.

Carole Smiley, whose family owns Atlas Heat Treating Corp. on Greenleaf Avenue, said she has worked near the dump site since the 1960s, when her father opened the metal-treating shop. About seven years ago, when the warning signs went up, she realized the dump was contaminated with hazardous wastes.

A "For Sale" sign now hangs on the side of the Atlas warehouse, and last week the company closed its doors. Smiley said she hopes the cleanup will help her family sell the land.

"I hate the idea that I'm sitting on top of a toxic pit," Smiley said, sitting in her office overlooking the dump. "I want them to clean it up. They have an obligation to the people to do that."

The EPA will accept public comments on the plan until Sept. 12 and will take the community's criticism into consideration when it develops the final plan, Harris-Bishop said. A decision is expected by the end of this month. Work could begin early next year.

Lewis C. Maldonado, an attorney for the EPA, said once the cleanup plan is approved, the EPA will attempt to recover the cost from property owners. The agency has identified 26 companies that may have been responsible for dumping chemicals in the area. Names of the companies have not been released.

EPA Cleanup site. A 43 acre dump in Santa Fe Springs that is contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals would be paved over with asphalt under a $5.5-million cleanup plan proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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