While Wilmington Middle School students are off for winter break, federal environmental investigators will be probing their school and a nearby neighborhood for traces of hazardous chemicals in the air or topsoil.
The suspected culprit is a degreasing solvent used at a truck stop that once occupied the area, which is on Lomita Boulevard between Avalon Boulevard and Main Street in Carson.
Investigators will be trying to determine whether perchloroethene and trichloroethene found in the soil could be getting into air inside the school and homes, and whether that could cause health problems for people exposed to it.
"Because of the measurable amounts (of chemicals) that we found there, we're going to conduct indoor air testing early next year," said Robert Wise, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency coordinator. "If we do find we're getting hits above action level, we'll be working with federal and state toxicologists to determine if there is a serious health risk. Then we'll determine remedial actions."
The contamination was unearthed during a completely separate testing process for environmental contamination at the nearby Carousel tract housing development in Carson. There, Shell Oil Co. is responsible for cleaning massive oil deposits under the 285 homes built there in the 1960s, after the company's oil tank farm was flattened.
The first phase of testing at Carson's Monterey Pines neighborhood in November found chemicals from the degreasing agent in holes bored into streets around the neighborhood and school, investigators said.
On Jan. 2, testing will take place at Wilmington Middle School in Wilmington. That will be followed by a series of tests at 40 homes in the Monterey Pines development. Some homes in the Carousel tract will also be checked, investigators said.
Nearly two years ago, investigators tested Wilmington Middle School for possible contamination resulting from the nearby former Shell site. However, they did not report finding worrisome levels of contamination.
The chemicals found recently at Monterey Pines were known to developers when they built the tract in 1996. Environmental remediation was done at the site, but apparently it was not thorough enough, according to EPA coordinator Christopher Weden.
"They did a cleanup but, as to why there was stuff left over, you'll have to direct those questions to the (Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control) board," Weden told the Carson City Council. "It should be done right the first time, but this isn't the first time someone has said they cleaned it and, 20 years later, we have to come and clean it again."
Carson council members expressed concern over potential health impacts.
"We're very concerned about finding something like this at a place that should have been cleaned," Mayor Jim Dear said.