Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

El Cajon Residents Pack Meeting On Toxic Plume

Homeowners from the Starlight Mobile Home Park and Greenfield Mobile Home Estates in El Cajon gather at Magnolia Elementary School auditorium, Nov. 16, 2016.
Megan Wood
Homeowners from the Starlight Mobile Home Park and Greenfield Mobile Home Estates in El Cajon gather at Magnolia Elementary School auditorium, Nov. 16, 2016.

El Cajon Residents Pack Meeting On Toxic Plume
El Cajon Residents Pack Meeting On Toxic Plume GUEST: Ingrid Lobet, reporter, inewsource

Residents of two El Cajon mobile home parks heard from state officials last night regarding a toxic plume under their homes. It is a plume of contaminated groundwater that officials have known about for years. Until recently met test many members were unaware that it runs under their community. Ingrid Lobet attended the meeting last night and she joins us now . Welcome to the program. Thank you very much. What is this toxic plume consist of? There are number of chemicals in the blue but the one that they are most concerned about is a one less than the highest concentrations and that is Trichloroethylene . This used to be the most common solvent that you might use to clean off metal or clean tools. So it was left by an industry. After World War II and El Cajon on Greenville Drive this aerospace manufacturer machine shop opened up and they did aerospace manufacturing. What area of El Cajon are we talking about put It is Greenville Drive not too far from Highway 67. How big is this plume area? The plume stretches for 1.3 miles and goes out to the less be feel. Are these two mobile home parks close to areas where there it's already been know that there's contamination? It's been known for quite some time and it runs underneath an elementary school and they been dealing with that for some time. The school was closed last year the kids were relocated to another school while the responsible party to this company installed a ventilation system so there are pipes underneath the concrete slab that bring the chemicals up from the ground and wrap them up over the roots of the classrooms. There is no dust no such routing going on in these parts as we speak? Know, so far there has been no testing underneath the mobile homes are in the mobile homes to find out whether this liquid is becoming a vapor. So bring us to last night at this meeting and El Cajon. What agencies were represented at the meeting quick There was a regional water quality control Board, which has been in charge of the situation for a longer period of time and then there was also the department of toxic substance control, which has special responsibility when it comes to toxicity and school sites. So what efforts are they proposing for the starlight and Greenfield mobile home parks quite What they did was they went and they tested and they had dug these holes as close as it could get to the mobile home park without actually being on that property so right at the fence line and they found levels of gas with Trichloroethylene levels that were high enough and said we needed to test the houses so they are now asking 19 mobile home owners and we are permission to come in and test the error in your house and as soon as they get that permission from the mobile home park owner then they will go when into that. If it tests positive, what kind of health effects could that have on the people who lived there? Trichloroethylene has three different ways that it's not good for you. It can cause liver cancer and kidney cancer. It is a double mental poison -- developmental poison which can cause birth defects. Is also a reproductive toxicant and for men it lowers sex hormone so it can lead to reduced sperm quality and low sex drive. Payment you just told us that the state officials who did that monitoring outside of the mobile home parks new that there was contamination their 26 years ago? Be back with the state believes is that since this groundwater gets steeper as it gets dust runs underneath the mobile home park and the levels are found in the schools don't pose a health risk since it is at a lower -- deeper underground they have not expected that they would find any problem at the mobile home park. So how do the residents respond? There were a range of responses. Some asked how long did you know about this? It is a very significant financial issue for anybody. People wanted to know how quickly will we be able to get the results. Some people were sick and that they believe there was too much illness in the homes around them and they thought that they could be connected to exposure they might have experience. So how quickly will they get the results of these tests? They were told by Sean McClain that it should be within six months. If they do fine concentrations of this toxin, do they have a plan to do something about it? They said they would look at some of the same measures that were taken at the school, which would be -- if you have a crawlspace desk crawlspace they would get that air moving so instead of coming up into the house, it would be moving away from the house and install the type of filtering ventilation that they installed at the school. I've been speaking with Ingrid Lobet . Thank you.

El Cajon Residents Pack Meeting On Toxic Plume
In a meeting Wednesday, state officials told a crowd that the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board has never believed an underground chemical plume posed a threat to the area's mobile home owners.

State officials were just minutes into their presentation about an underground chemical plume in El Cajon when homeowners began raising questions: “Have you tested it?” a voice came from the back. “How are we going to sell our homes?” asked another.

Residents of the Starlight and Greenfield Mobile Homes Estates, along with other neighbors — some 60 in all — nearly filled a Magnolia Elementary School auditorium Wednesday evening.

RELATED: Toxic Plume In El Cajon Reaches Beneath Mobile Home Park

Sean McClain, a state engineering geologist, told the crowd that in the 28 years the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board has been addressing the contamination, it has never believed it posed a threat to the mobile home owners who live adjacent to the school. That is because the plume runs deeper under the homes than it does under the school, and what is measured in the school classrooms is considered acceptable.

“We know contaminants in that ground water are volatilizing off the water into the soil column, and in some cases are entering the school buildings,” said Patrick Kerzic, a toxicologist with the Department of Toxic Substances Control. “Our risk evaluations consistently show that we feel the school is safe for use and safe for occupancy.”

Yet when the state recently sunk wells as close as it could get to the mobile homes without actually entering the properties, 10 of their 25 wells failed the screening test, McClain said, meaning there was more than enough trichloroethylene in the soil to trigger investigation.

That’s what led the officials to extend the first offer of indoor air testing to 19 owners in the mobile home parks. It’s the first many of the resident have learned about the contamination, even though numerous monitoring and extraction wells are operating just feet from their homes at the school.

A mobile home community in El Cajon sits atop a plume of toxic trichloroethylene, Oct 18, 2016.
Megan Wood
A mobile home community in El Cajon sits atop a plume of toxic trichloroethylene, Oct 18, 2016.

Trichloroethylene is considered the most serious and concentrated of several industrial solvents that for years were flushed into a shallow hole in the ground at a nearby aerospace manufacturing firm.

Noemi Harris, a mother of three, said she was concerned that she was not offered testing, though she lives in one of the parks.

“Can we volunteer to have our homes tested?” asked Joel Menezes, who found himself in the same position. The answer seems to be not yet.

Not everyone agrees the vapors in the classrooms have been safe. People who attended Magnolia Elementary School dating back to the 1960s, as well as teachers who taught there, are suing over alleged exposure.

inewsource-foot-ermon-3.png