Sunday, October 3, 2010
"Superfund" Dump in Monterey Park, Cal.
My commute home eastward on the Pomona (60) Freeway requires that I drive past a land formation situated before the approach of the Paramount Boulevard off-ramp. It is not a natural formation. It is a dump that grew to 640 feet high since it became a garbage landfill in 1948.
Prior to 1948, the area was a gravel and sand pit. After that the city operated a garbage disposal there along with a private firm, and Operating Industries, Inc. took over in 1952. The area is the southernmost point of the city and juts into Montebello. In years past there were other privately-owned excavation operations along the edge of town: The Higgins brickyard at 4700 Ramona Boulevard, along the northern boundary next to Alhambra; and the Davidson brickyard at the southwest, bordering unincorporated East Los Angeles. Conversion of the former brickyards were mostly non-controversial. The Davidson property became a part of Los Angeles Corporate Center development.
The Pomona Freeway segment through this area, constructed and opened by the Spring of 1967, split the landfill, and relegated 45 acres to the north of the freeway. It was reported that the 45 acres hadn't been used as a dump since 1952. The primarily 145 acres, now south of the new freeway, continued to receive hazardous materials. Nearby in Montebello, new homes were constructed between 1976 and 1978.
The physical separation of the landfill caused by the freeway accentuated the fact that the landfill was in Monterey Park, but those residents affected by the smell and leaked chemicals were in Montebello.
After the dump closed in 1984, it became a "Superfund" site, which made it sound fun and good, but in actuality, the absolute opposite worse: the federal Environmental Protection Agency designated the hazardous waste landfill a danger to community health in ways unforeseen and unknown when the regional water board authorized the dumping of chemical liquid wastes in 1954. (Ironically, in 1959 the city of Monterey Park tried, unsuccessfully, to put another gravel pit owner, Lowry B. McCaslin, out of business, citing noise and health risks to neighboring residents.)
Within months of the closure of the Operating Industries, Inc. landfill in 1984, the Monterey Park city council swiftly announced plans to re-claim the 45-acres for a business development containing an auto center, discount outlets, a hotel and restaurants. The community objected, with concerns about excavating possibly contaminated soil. Further, the EPA maintained that the 45-acres were a part of the Superfund site.
Years dragged by: in 1990, the EPA proposed covering the entire site with a plastic cover while extracting and treating harmful gases emitting from the trash heap would contain the significant stench. In the ensuing years, the EPA billed all users in the history of the landfill, comprising of nearly 4,000 entities from small businesses to large corporations and even municipalities. The Times-Mirror Co., Southern California Gas, the DWP, the MTA, the U.S. Navy, Coca-Cola, Atlantic Richfield, Beatrice/Hunt-Wesson Inc., Dunn-Edwards Corp., Georgia-Pacific Corp., and McDonnell Douglas Corp. to name a few.
At the close of 2001, an $340 million agreement was finalized among 177 companies. Now 26 years later, this past April, an even narrower settlement implied 12 companies for a $3.8 million cleanup cost. The latest companies include Halliburton Energy Services, Inc., Jaybee Manufacturing Corporation, and Princess Cruises Limited. The EPA calculated that each of the 12 companies contributed more than 110,000 gallons of liquid waste.
I remember having to hold my nose while driving pass on the 60 Freeway . I don't recall when the stink went away. But lately, I notice brand new green pipes extending out from the landfill.