When Scott Hookey moved into his Torrance home, he had concerns about gang activity in the neighborhood.
But never did he imagine his biggest worry would be one he couldn't see.
His home is around the corner from the Del Amo and Montrose superfund sites, two of the nation's worst chemical dumping grounds. Hookey's home is one of five that tested for elevated levels of potentially dangerous chemicals like chloroform and trichloroethylene, which is mainly used as an industrial cleaner.
"When you move into a house, you sign a lead-based paint disclosure," he said. "But they don't tell you about your proximity to a superfund site - or the plumes of contaminates that are underneath you."
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 the 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 chemical seeping in their homes from a plume of tainted groundwater below, the Los Angeles Times reported. 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, Dana Barton, who supervises the Superfund sites for the EPA's regional office in San Francisco, told The Times. "But we did find some levels of concern."
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, The Times reported.
The recent testing was intended to find out whether volatile compounds in polluted groundwater is evaporating through the soil and into homes, a process called vapor intrusion. Most concerning was the discovery of trichloroethylene, or TCE, in five homes, according to the newspaper. The industrial solvent pollutes groundwater in the neighborhood and other cleanup sites across the nation.
The results of the latest testing were so alarming that Hookey and his wife put their plans of starting a family on hold.
"There's no way we would have moved here if we had known these things," he said.