EPA Tests Homes for Harmful Vapors

Del Amo mapDEL AMO, CA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered a new round of air quality tests for a South Bay neighborhood after detecting a variety of contaminants inside homes near two federal cleanup sites.

The EPA sampled 107 homes near the Del Amo and Montrose Superfund sites earlier this year under pressure from residents worried they are breathing dangerous chemicals seeping in their homes from a plume of tainted groundwater below.

The tests detected pollutants associated with the cleanup sites, including benzene, chloroform and trichloroethylene, at levels above the agency’s health standards for long-term exposure.

The concentrations are not high enough to pose an urgent health risk to residents, said Dana Barton, who supervises the Superfund sites for the EPA’s regional office in San Francisco. “But we did find some levels of concern.”

Barton said some of the compounds could be from bathroom cleaners, painting supplies and other products in peoples’ homes, and others are probably coming from vehicle exhaust and refinery emissions in outdoor air.

“The question now for us is how much, if at all, the Superfund sites are contributing,” Barton said.

Cynthia Babich, a former resident who directs the neighborhood advocacy group Del Amo Action Committee, called the results “scary and confusing” and accused the EPA of “minimizing the chance that there could be a problem in the community.”

Worries over indoor air are only the latest environmental problems in this unincorporated community near Torrance. Residents have contended with decades of alarming discoveries, including soil laced with the pesticide DDT that led to the demolition of more than 60 homes and excavations of two dozen frontyards.

The neighborhood sits next to some of the nation’s worst chemical dumping grounds: the former Montrose Chemical Corp. DDT plant that operated from 1947 to 1982, the Del Amo synthetic rubber plant built by the U.S. government during World War II and other industrial operations. Over decades, the facilities dumped chemical waste into pits, ponds, trenches, sewers, stormwater channels and the Pacific Ocean.

Now, the EPA is overseeing a lengthy cleanup at the Montrose and Del Amo sites under its Superfund program. It has cost more than $48 million to date.