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In Silver Lake, an air of dismay over pipeline project

Neighbors say dust from construction is causing respiratory problems. DWP officials say they are taking steps to control noise and pollution from the $40-million project.

March 09, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Silver Lake resident Jerome Courshon stands next to a pile of dirt from the pipeline project. "For me, my throat ranges from itchy to actually sore," he says.
Silver Lake resident Jerome Courshon stands next to a pile of dirt from the… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Silver Lake residents can't wait for this construction job to bite the dust.

More than two dozen residents living along the path of a $40-million water pipe project say they are suffering respiratory problems from particulate matter stirred up by construction trucks and heavy-duty trenching machines.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is replacing a massive neighborhood water conduit as part of a larger, federally mandated plan to retire the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs, which are exposed to airborne contaminants. On Thursday, workers began construction of a new, enclosed drinking water reservoir on the north edge of Griffith Park. That $230-million Headworks Reservoir project is expected to be completed in 2014.

The smaller, 11-mile water main project began in May 2010 and the trenching wended its way into a hilly, upscale area of eastern Silver Lake in September. The neighborhood, a showcase of mid-century homes, hosts numerous musicians, writers and entertainment industry workers. Those who work from home or whose jobs require them to sleep during the day say the disruption has become unbearable.

Jerome Courshon, a film producer and writer who has lived in Silver Lake for two decades, said the noise and dust have caused two of his neighbors to move. Another neighbor has to use an oxygen tank when she is sleeping because the dust has aggravated her asthma, he said.

"For me, my throat ranges from itchy to actually sore. I almost never get sick — I've never had this kind of thing before," said Courshon, who added that he has spent about $1,000 on air filtration equipment and rubberized sound insulation coverings for windows at his Waverly Drive apartment.

Michael Newsom, another Waverly Drive resident, said he has experienced continual wheezing and sneezing since the project began.

"I can't prove that it's directly related to the dust. But it doesn't take a scientific study to know there's dust in the air. You can take your car to the carwash and park on the street and the next morning it's covered with thick dust," Newsom said.

DWP officials say they have been quick to respond to residents' complaints.

The department is lending air purifiers to residents and has instructed workers to spray water on streets to dampen the dust and to cover dirt piles at the end of the day, according to Glenn Singley, director of water engineering and technical services for the DWP.

Other precautions include covering trucks that are hauling dirt as well as ceasing digging operations during second-stage smog alerts or when winds exceed 25 mph.

"We're very sympathetic with residents. It's a very large pipe going down narrow streets," Singley said. "It's a difficult situation with heavy construction in a residential neighborhood."

Singley said project workers have replaced a loud generator with a quieter model and used baffles to help deaden construction sounds.

He said that experts from the South Coast Air Quality Management District have found no violations at the project site and that dust sampling conducted last week by the DWP showed that "we're well below standards" set by the AQMD for particulate matter in the air.

Nonetheless, some residents continue to blame the project for health problems.

Lillian Groag, an opera and stage director whose work sometimes takes her to other parts of the country, said she has had a persistent cough since last year.

"My doctor cannot find out what is wrong," said Groag, who also lives on Waverly Drive. "I had an MRI, X-rays and a complex allergy test. I can't breathe at night. It all stops when I leave town."

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