Community Involvement

 

April 30, 2014

 

Ana Cortez Facilitator/Mediator
Center for Collaborative Policy
California State University, Sacramento
815 S Street,
Sacramento, California 95811


Dear Ms. Cortez:

 

This letter reiterates and clarifies comments made by members of the Del Amo Action Committee during our meeting with you on April 11, 2014.

  

In this letter I will refer to the Del Amo/Montrose Superfund Site.  I identify the site as one site.  The USEPA has organized the investigation and clean up of the site into several operating units with separate steps for each unit.  This inhibits the ability of the public to understand the work underway and comment on important decision making.  It also minimizes the public health and environmental damage caused by the co-mingled waste.  In some measure this is the result of working with several responsible parties and continuing negotiation of costs and decisions regarding steps for mitigation.  The administrative and legal barriers seriously impede clean up of the site.

 

The major points made by community members during the Friday meeting are summarized below:  

 

Information sharing for the site is inadequate, ineffective and unpredictable.  Basic, understandable information about the site must be readily available.  This means, in words community members can understand and in the languages they speak.  Putting out a flyer every once in a while is not enough.  Having a public meeting sporadically and unpredictably is not enough.  EPA needs to work with community members to design a communication program that is effective and predictable.  

 

The work at the Del Amo/Montrose site has as a 30 year history.  It is time to re-evaluate 1) The impact the Del Amo/Montrose site is having on the health of community residents.  2) The information on the extent of contamination from the site.  3) Evaluate the organization of the work and the decisions being made.  The disconnected, piece meal approach EPA is using to tackle the site isn’t working.  This approach results in a failure to understand the full extent of the problem and do the right thing to solve it and it is wasting a lot of time and money.  

 

The Montrose DDT manufacturing facility closed in 1982.  I am one of the people who visited the community at that time.  I met with a community member who lived in a house with a backyard that bordering a dirt alley between the Del Amo site and the community.  I went there because the community was fighting the construction of a trash transfer station on the Del Amo site.  They were afraid that the construction would cause a release of toxic fumes to the community.  The trash transfer facility was proposed on the Del Amo property.  It was proposed when Governor Deukmejian had just taken office in 1982.  The political controversy with this proposal resulted in the program director for the California Hazardous Waste Program to be forced to resign.  

 

What I saw there in 1982 caused me to be gravely concerned.  DDT dust was everywhere.  I don’t think people working on the site now even believe me when I say that but it is true.  The fumes from the Del Amo site were an everyday reality.  On April 16, 2014, I went back to the community.  The alley behind the homes is now a small paved street.  The Del Amo waste pits are covered, the Montrose Plant property is now a place where the groundwater treatment system is being installed.  I met a man who has lived in a house across the street from Montrose all of his life.  He showed me a picture of two small boys on with their tricycles.  He was one of the boys.  He played on the empty lot across from Montrose.  It was clear that he is in bad health.  His skin is covered with warts.  He needs oxygen to breath.  One of the Del Amo Action Committee members has three children who grew up on Kenwood where the DDT was released when it rained.  All of them have serious health problems.  Her 38 year old son suffers from diabetes and is blind from the illness.   She has twin daughters.  One of them has rheumatoid arthritis.  One has a rare blood disease.  Her granddaughter suffers from asthma and skin rashes.  She has several neighbors with similar problems.  More is needed to evaluate the health impacts of the site on the 3,000 people who live within a quarter mile of the site.

Isn’t it sad?  I’m sure you know of the Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring.  This book is recognized as the catalyst for the environmental movement in this country.  As you know, DDT was one of Rachel Carson’s major concerns due to the impact its use was having on the Bald Engle, Pelican and Peregrine Falcon populations.  The Montrose Chemical Plant caused massive environmental damage both in the neighboring community and at the outfall of the polluted waste water on the Palos Verde’s shelf.  The cleanup of the Montrose Chemical plant should be a model for environmental cleanups.  But it isn’t.  It’s been thirty years.  Only now is any definitive effort being made to clean up the groundwater.  

 

One of the handicaps this site suffers from is assumptions based on work done years ago.  What are some of the assumptions:  1) a health study was done in the community in the early 90’s and no pervasive health problems were discovered.  2)  EPA has worked on the Del Amo/Montrose site for years.  Exhaustive studies have been done and the problem is well on the way to being solved.  3)  The air in the homes was tested and there wasn’t any problem.  The decision that no technically feasible alternative is available to clean up the contamination in the groundwater, the best that can be done is controlling it and that is going to take thousands of years is the worst assumption/decision.  

 

It is time to re-evaluate 1) The impact the Del Amo/Montrose site is having on the health of community residents.  2) The information on the extent of contamination from the site.  3) A better way to organize the work and the decisions being made.  The disconnected, piece meal approach EPA is using to tackle the site isn’t working.  This approach results in a failure to really understand the full extent of the problem and do the right thing to solve it and it is wasting a lot of money.  

 

Please, why is EPA hiring contractors to evaluate the community?  It is my opinion that this is an effort to neutralize the Del Amo Action Committee because they are getting in the way.  It isn’t needed and it isn’t being done the right way.  I recommend that EPA use that money instead to convene a group of highly skilled and experience environmental experts to evaluate the work at the site and make recommendations.  But please don’t stop putting in the wastewater treatment system.  At least this is a tangible effort to clean something up.

 

There are two levels of concern with the Del Amo/Montrose site.  The first is the potential impact on the health of the people who live near the site.  This is a threshold question that must be answered.  The Del Amo Action Committee members are working hard to have vapor intrusion testing in the homes near the Del Amo/Montrose site.  This is an important step in insuring that the site does not continue to cause health problems in the residential area near the site. The technical advisor working on behalf of the community agrees this testing should be done.  Also, there are areas close to the Montrose site that were never completely investigated.  For example, there is a large vacant property behind the homes across the street from Montrose.   I saw a mobile home with a person sweeping the dust in front of it on that vacant property.  It is a dumping ground.  There is a property on Normandie that was previously a gasoline station.  I understand the underground tanks are still there.

 

The second threshold question affects thousands of people.  Does the groundwater contamination caused by the Del Amo/Montrose site threaten Los Angeles groundwater resources used for drinking water?  The answer to this question is an important one.  Over the years I have participated in work at a number of major sites in the Los Angeles area, the Stringfellow site, The Santa Susanna Field Laboratory and many other seriously contaminated sites.  Time and time again I’ve heard regulators assure community members that their drinking water is fine.  “The contamination at the site does not reach the deeper aquifer where you get your drinking water.”  We know that the Del Amo/Montrose contaminants have reached three levels of the groundwater.  We know the contamination will continue to migrate.  I understand that there is a drinking water recharge basin close to the edge of the plume.  I also know that measuring the spread of groundwater contamination is difficult.  In a recent meeting with staff from the Department of Toxic Substances Control working on the site they discussed this difficulty.  It is a real issue.  Water is precious in Los Angeles.  We can’t afford to lose a resource we need.

 

In closing this letter I offer the following quote by Rachel Carson:  “Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed.  Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world.  There is certainly no single remedy for this condition and I am offering no panacea. But it seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race.”  

 

Thanks for listening,

Florence Gharibian

 

Board Chair

Del Amo Action Committee

 

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