EPA tests air at site of old medal shop

July 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
On Friday afternoon the Environmental Protection Agency collected air samples inside some homes in Oakland where there is the possibility of toxic contamination from a nearby hazardous waste clean-up site. A day care center is also being tested near 30th Street and San Pablo Avenue.

The Government says a metal plating shop operated on a now-vacant lot from the 1950's until the 1970's, or early 1980's. Cis-dichloroethane, trans dichloroethane, trichlorethylne and vinyl chloride have been found eight feet underground. Vinyl chloride is an infamous carcinogen. Now questions arise if the vapors from those chemicals are now in the air.

The empty lot at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and 30th Street has a poisonous past dating from the 1950's. Chemicals from the metal-plating shop that once stood here saturate the soil underground.

"They rinse things off in huge vats full of solvents, there's going to be some spillage. In cases like this is, it was probably just disposal out in the back," said Carol Northrup, from the State Toxic Substance Control.
"And that was legal?" asks ABC7's Heather Ishimaru.
"That wasn't regulated," said Northrup.
"Is it now?" asked Ishimaru.
"Yes," said Northrup.

On Friday the EPA put these air-sampling canisters in a handful of homes, a day care center, and the lot itself, to see if toxic gases are seeping up through the soil. Federal on-scene coordinator Bret Moxley says there is a layer of clay between the chemicals and the surface.

"I'm optimistic because the clay layer is there and it's very hard to get gases through clay. If I wasn't concerned I wouldn't be here. The concentrations are very high," said Moxley.

The canisters will be left overnight, picked up on Saturday, with lab results back early next week.

Linda Jenkins has lived here nearly 58 years, and has a host of health problems. She remembers smelling the chemicals coming from the shop.

"I'm hoping they find nothing because I want life to go on like it was," said Jenkins, a homeowner.

If it turns out the air is not safe to breathe, the government will pay for Jenkins and her neighbors to move out temporarily.

Moxley says if necessary, he can make the homes safe within a couple days. However, the state says proving a link between past exposure to the chemicals and health problems is very, very tough, and legal action is not an option.

"The fact of the matter is we can't find any responsible parties to do the cleanup, so who are you going to go after for suing?" said Northrup.

The EPA says that the air testing is so sensitive that it breaks out the individual molecules it finds, leaving very little room for error.


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