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350 tons of soil evidence is missing, O.C. workers say

May 05, 2012|Nicole Santa Cruz
  • Employees at the Social Services Agency building in Santa Ana blame their illnesses on toxic contamination. The site was formerly used to make oil drilling equipment.
Employees at the Social Services Agency building in Santa Ana blame their… (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles…)

Orange County social service staffers who say they work inside a toxic building that has made them sick now contend that the county has tossed out some of their most damning evidence -- 350 tons of potentially contaminated soil.

But on Friday, when the employees' union went to court to get a restraining order to prevent any more soil from being disposed of, the judge said it was too late.

"Whatever has occurred, has occurred," Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Perk said.

The county performed soil tests in February and found the presence of a toxic chemical commonly used in the dry-cleaning industry called perchloroethylene, or perc.

But after further tests, the building was deemed safe for workers to return.

In late March, the county began a solar energy project in the parking lot adjacent to the county facility in Orange, where more than 550 people work.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 06, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
Orange County government building: An article in the May 5 LATExtra section about a potentially toxic government building in Orange County said that the employees union sought a restraining order to prevent soil from a nearby construction site from being disposed of. Those seeking the restraining order were former and current employees of the county's social services agency, not the union.

Experts said the construction job wouldn't affect further testing of the soil, said TerryLynn Fisher, the spokeswoman for the Orange County Social Services Agency.

In the 1970s and '80s, the site was used to manufacture oil drilling equipment. In 1993, the county moved into existing office buildings that became the subject of a legal battle after county workers alleged that toxins had caused a litany of health issues, including cancer.

Although Fisher said the amount of excavated soil was "negligible," attorneys for the workers said that more than 350 tons of soil had been trucked away, which could affect the results of the tests.

But Arezou Khonsari, an attorney for the county, said that any chemicals in the soil would have already been disturbed by previous construction at the site.

"There's been so much activity going on in the past 20 years," she said.

In court documents, attorneys for the workers said the county "literally ripped open the site's parking lot and disposed of large quantities of soil evidence, apparently without testing it," and added that the county refused to disclose the details of the construction.

But Fisher said employees were aware of it.

"Employees going to work every day saw it happening," she said.

--

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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