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Toxic Plume Leads To Testing Of El Cajon Mobile Homes

Photo credit: Megan Wood/inewsource

An plume runs beneath a road in the Starlight Mobile Home Park in El Cajon. October 18, 2016.

Residents in an El Cajon neighborhood are just finding out their homes have been sitting above a shallow, toxic plume for more than half a century.

Residents in an El Cajon neighborhood are just finding out their homes have been sitting above a shallow, toxic plume for more than half a century.

Even after all this time, no one knows whether trichloroethylene and other chemical vapors have seeped up from tainted groundwater and entered homes through cracks in concrete. There has been no testing.

Now that is changing. In the last few days some residents of the Starlight Mobile Home Park on East Bradley Avenue have received visits from state officials offering to test the air in their homes. They will also test the air outside.

For Anne Beams, a former Department of Defense teacher who has lived at Starlight since the 1980s, the developments come as a surprise.

“No one at the park ever brought it to our attention,” she said. Until this week, she was unaware of the plume. It’s a legacy of a 20th century aerospace manufacturing plant that once operated several hundred feet away.

“Doesn’t it sound as though they were very slow in making those of us in Starlight aware of what could be happening to us all these years?” she said of state authorities.

Several residents asked a reporter about the location of the groundwater. But there is no easily accessible map online, let alone one that is interactive. inewsource made one, based on a map provided by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

In total, owners of 14 mobile homes in Starlight and five more in the adjacent Greenfield Mobile Home Estates on Greenfield Drive were offered the indoor air tests, said Sean McClain, engineering geologist with the Regional Water Quality Control Board. He said his office had directed the company that is carrying out the testing to “sample more than what was needed.”

Yet the number of homes that lie inside a zone where groundwater is estimated to contain 1,000 micrograms of trichloroethylene per liter number more than the 19 where testing is being offered. And a document provided by state officials recommends that any area where groundwater surpasses just five micrograms per liter be considered for further testing.

Some of the chemicals in the groundwater plume are carcinogenic, damaging to unborn babies and can cause male reproductive harm. If vapors come up through the soil and accumulate in poorly ventilated living spaces, people would be exposed.

The plume emanates from beneath a building immediately east of Magnolia Elementary School on Greenfield Drive. For years, companies under different names disposed of or stored spent chemicals in a shallow sump there. According to state documents, in some months as much as 7,000 gallons of used chemical could have been disposed of there. The hole was lined with planks, so the liquid leaked out. It flowed downhill, beneath the elementary school and past it, a total of 1.3 miles, petering out under Gillespie Field.

Now the firm Ametek has paid to install vents and filters to treat contaminated air under the classroom concrete slabs. It will also pay to test the air in the homes of those residents who agree to testing.

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