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QUEMETCO/RSR CORP UPDATE: Soil testing near Quemetco lead smelter shows hazardous levels of lead nearby

SAN GRABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE

Soil testing near City of Industry battery recycling plant shows hazardous levels nearby

Allen Waldman, a geologist for WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, contracted by the Department of Toxic Substance Control, collects soil to test for signs of arsenic and lead in the front yard of a home near the battery recycling Quemetco plant in the City of Industry on Wednesday, July 6, 2016.

Allen Waldman, a geologist for WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, contracted by the Department of Toxic Substance Control, collects soil to test for signs of arsenic and lead in the front yard of a home near the battery recycling Quemetco plant in the City of Industry on Wednesday, July 6, 2016. Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/San Gabriel Valley Tribune
The Department of Toxic Substance Control tests the soil for signs of arsenic and lead in the residential areas near the battery recycling Quemetco plant in the City of Industry on Wednesday, July 6, 2016.The Department of Toxic Substance Control tests the soil for signs of arsenic and lead in the residential areas near the battery recycling Quemetco plant in the City of Industry on Wednesday, July 6, 2016.Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/San Gabriel Valley Tribune

CITY OF INDUSTRY — The Department of Toxic Substance Control has found hazardous levels of lead around the perimeter of the Quemetco battery recycling plant, but early tests have yet to uncover similar levels in a nearby residential area, according to a DTSC project manager.

The department tested more than 200 locations in the industrial and commercial areas closest to the battery recycling Quemetco plant and 10 of those locations were deemed hazardous, said Jose Diaz, a project manager overseeing the testing. “We were not surprised by that,” he said.

Those hazardous areas, which were not near homes, need to be cleaned and possibly paved over to prevent further build-up, Diaz said.

WHAT THEY FOUND IN A NEARBY NEIGHBORHOOD

The DTSC’s primary concern is the small neighborhood less than a quarter mile south of the plant. DTSC has reached access agreements with 106 homes, about a third of the residences within that range. DTSC pushed for the testing because Quemetco has released high levels of toxic metals numerous times in the past, in 1991, 2004 and 2012, and each time they were ordered to perform clean up. This new round of testing will determine if the battery recycler is releasing unsafe levels of lead and arsenic.

On Wednesday, a contracted crew hired by Quemetco, but supervised by DTSC, dug into front and backyards of the second residential property on their list. So far, some of the results have shown elevated levels, but Diaz said nothing has reached a point of concern.

Of the 75 soil samples tested for lead as of Wednesday afternoon, Diaz said less than half exceeded 80 parts per million, the point at which more testing is required. Approximately eight of the 25 soil samples tested at the second residence surpassed that amount, Diaz said. He did not have exact numbers for the first property.

The high concentrations require a risk assessment before DTSC can determine how to proceed.

If any of the samples come back above 1,000 parts per million, the area is deemed hazardous and requires immediate clean-up. None of the samples so far reached that limit in the residential area, Diaz said.

DTSC could expand their sampling to as much as a mile from Quemetco, an area that encompasses as many as 5,000 homes, Diaz said.

Diaz expects the initial round of residential testing to take four to five weeks. DTSC is still trying to get residential access agreements for the more than 200 other residences in the first area.

HOW THEY TEST THE SOIL

The contractor hired to test the soil digs five holes in the front and back of each home. Then, in each hole, they’ll collect five samples from different depths, down as far as 18 inches. A small X-ray machine on site can detect lead contamination instantly, but about 10 percent of the soil is sent to a third party testing company for more in-depth analysis. The more robust tests can detect other dangerous chemicals, like arsenic.

Quemetco hired and pays for the contractor doing the testing, but Diaz said its common for the company to foot the bill. He said DTSC monitors all of the work. The samples sent to the laboratory also verify the contractor’s results.

Duncan McKee falls outside of the testing area, but his home is still less than a mile from Quemetco. He came to the testing site on Finegrove Avenue Wednesday to watch the work. He says he isn’t convinced DTSC and contractor hired by Quemetco are doing enough.

An earlier plan for the testing recommended a mile radius but DTSC settled on the smaller area with the option to expand based on those results.

“I’m second generation of people who are concerned about it,” McKee said. “People should really keep an eye on this.”

The battery recycling plant wants to increase its operations by as much as 25 percent. The plant has reached its maximum capacity per its permit, according to Dan Kramer, a Quemetco spokesman.

About 60 percent of the batteries recycled in California go through the Industry-based plant, he said.

“Otherwise, they’re going to go to places that are much less environmentally sensitive, like Mexico, or China,” he said.

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