What Lies Beneath

Proving once again that the internet is good for something other than pornography and pirating music, one of the more useful state agencies you've never heard of, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, has created EnviroStors, an online database of contaminated sites throughout the state. The database, the San Jose Mercury News reports, "includes 8,261 industrial sites, schools, military bases, vacant lots, farms and other properties -- everything from Silicon Valley Superfund sites with solvents in the groundwater to old scrap metal yards with lead in the soil. It lists sites that are being cleaned up as well as those where cleanups are complete."

EnviroStors is easy to use– you can search for sites by city or county name, or zip code– but it is still a work in progress. It's far from listing every contaminated site in California– it even omits some well known EPA Superfund sites– though the manager of the database assures the Mercury News that more sites and more information are constantly being added. A search using the Weekly's zip code– 92701– currently returns two sites, while searching for all of Orange County pulls up 44.

Not only is it appropriate that this story is being covered by a newspaper, the Mercury News, which shares its name with a toxic substance, it's appropriate that the story appeared today, because it fits in nicely with the cover story of the new issue of Los Angeles City Beat. City Beat reports that one of L.A.'s most fashionable dog parks– "popular with celebrities, including Dustin Hoffman, Kirsten Dunst, and Owen Wilson"– sits next to and partially on top of a rather nasty little toxic dump.

From 1952 to 1968, UCLA and the West L.A. Veterans Administration, now called the Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles Healthcare Center, used the land adjacent to and under the park to bury radioactive biomedical research waste.

The wastes buried there, according to research records unearthed by CityBeat, include barrels of radioactive tritium and lab wastes, and animal carcasses from Atomic Age-experiments involving the toxic radionuclides carbon-14, zinc-65, strontium-85 and strontium-90, gold-198, iodine-125, cobalt-60, copper-67, manganese-54, xenon-133, indium-113, calcium-47, iron-59, and several others. A central dirt mound of plant-covered debris sits in the middle of the dump, emitting high ambient radiation readings. This reporter, using a nuclear radiation monitor, detected shards of radioactive glass that registered more than four times normal.

Carcasses of radioactive lab dogs, cats, and a menagerie of animals make up approximately half of the toxic trash deep-sixed there. The dumping was done before regulations were created to control these wastes. Raw wastes were tossed or poured into the dump, deposited in unlined trenches and holes with nary a record of the dumping for the first eight years of operation. But these materials have a long life as poisons. The carbon-14 isotope, for instance, has a half-life of 5,730 years. The location was also used as a chemical waste disposal site for the VA and UCLA.

Even though it's incomplete, you might want to check EnivroStors before you take Fido out to pollute a site, so you'll know what's already there.


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