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EPA Rejects Permanent Evacuation Over DDT : Pollution: Agency says tests show toxic levels are less than feared. But angry residents want to be relocated.

November 18, 1994|DEBORAH SCHOCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After months of testing, federal officials told a South Bay neighborhood Thursday night that they have found no reason residents should be permanently moved from a street where chunks of buried DDT were found last spring.

But the residents lashed out at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, maintaining again that their neighborhood is contaminated with chemicals from two nearby toxic sites.

Federal testing has turned up traces of DDT and another pesticide in household dust inside 25 homes along West 204th Street near Torrance, and more tests are needed to determine if the pesticides pose a health risk to residents, the EPA reported Thursday.

But after months of sampling soil, air and tap water, agency officials say they are encouraged that chemical contamination on the street is less than residents feared.

"EPA believes it's pretty good news that we're coming back to the community with," EPA Section Chief John Blevins said as he summarized the results of the $1.7-million of tests this summer and fall in the neighborhood near two toxic chemical sites.

Community leader Cynthia Babich vehemently disagreed, contending that the EPA deliberately is downplaying the test results.

"They should condemn this neighborhood and relocate the residents, and stop spending all that money testing. They've tested enough," Babich said.

The tests were begun after buried chunks of DDT were uncovered last spring behind the homes of Babich and a neighbor on the modest working-class street, alarming residents who have complained of nausea, rashes and dizziness that they fear are caused by chemicals.

For months, 33 families from the street have been living in cramped hotel rooms and rented homes at federal expense while the EPA excavated the buried DDT and investigated for further chemical contamination.

The street is flanked by two toxic sites: the former Montrose Chemical Corp., once a major DDT manufacturer and now a federal Superfund site, and the Del Amo Study Area, once home to a synthetic rubber factory and now a federal Superfund nominee.

The test results included the discovery of DDT and another pesticide, benzene hexachloride (BHC), in dust in 25 of the 28 homes tested.

More tests are needed to determine the pesticides' concentrations and whether they pose a health hazard, Blevins said. After investigating further, the EPA will decide whether to sample dust in other homes in the area.

Too little is known to say if the DDT came from the Montrose plant or another source, such as legal pesticide use, Blevins said.

The DDT chunks found in two yards last spring were found mixed with fill that officials once feared could extend under a number of homes.

But soil testing along the street has found that similar fill may exist in only four other yards, and more investigation of the six properties is planned.

More study is also planned to determine why indoor air tests turned up benzene at higher than normal levels in two homes. The EPA says it has no information connecting the benzene to either the Montrose or Del Amo sites.

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