Truong Mai, a partner at Ametek environmental consultant ERM, staffs the air testing table at a community meeting on the underground contamination in El Cajon. June 4, 2017. Photo by Megan Wood/inewsource.
by Ingrid Lobet, inewsource
Ametek, Inc. is offering to test the air in any home in the three mobile home communities located over an increasingly high profile chemical plume that runs underground through part of El Cajon.
The company is among those responsible for disposing of waste chemicals from a manufacturing site decades ago, and is the now the sole responsible party. Another, Ketema Aerospace, went bankrupt.
Dr. Mary McDaniel, an environmental medicine physician consulting with Ametek, made the offer to residents at a community meeting Wednesday night attended by some 30 residents. "We are happy to do that for them," she said.
The move to offer air testing comes as a relief to some residents. It is a stronger and more direct approach than the state has offered so far.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control, one of the agencies charged with cleaning up the site and protecting residents, insists on a "stepwise" process, where testing takes place in outward concentric bands of homes, only after hazardous conditions are pinpointed nearby.
That method means a longer wait for residents. Even a fleeting exposure to trichloroethylene - the main chemical in the plume - by an expectant mother can be dangerous for an embryo or first term fetus. Most other kinds of harm come from long term exposure.
Jasmine DeVeney said the state's stepwise approach was wrong. She has lived in Greenfield Mobile Estates since her now five-year old daughter was 11 months old.
"They should just do all the testing and get it over with," she said at the meeting Wednesday night. She gave both state officials and Ametek low marks for the speed with which they've addressed risk to residents.
"I have documents going back all the way to 2002 that show they were issued a cleanup and abatement order and another document from 2008 that shows they still never did anything. So after all these years, why aren't they doing their job? They don't live here," she said.
Lenny Siegel, with the organization Center for Public Environmental Oversight, called some of the test results so far "very high for indoor air." He has worked on dozen of contaminated plume sites.
Some residents noted the mobile parks have been filling up with small children. Young bodies are more susceptible to exposures than adults. Children breathe faster than adults and the exposure is spread over a smaller body mass.
The meeting at Magnolia Elementary School was the first since indoor air testing earlier this year revealed trichloroethylene at worrisome levels in five out of 17 homes sampled. State officials did not emphasize worrisome test results to residents. Asked whether the results lent urgency to the investigation, DTSC Branch chief Peter Garcia said no.
"With respect to urgency, there is no urgency as far as taking additional action at this point other than continuing our investigation," he said.
Department toxicologist Patrick Kerzic had a different view.
"We do have a sense of urgency. It is not an emergency. But we want to move as fast as we can," he said.
He urged people to grant access to their homes for testing.
There will be no resistance on that point from Leeann Grider, a medical assistant and mother of five who has begged for home testing "since day one," she said, even offering to pay for it herself.
She has experience working with doctors. And she has an 11-year old who has been through cancer treatment, for retinal blastoma.
"I don't need him going through cancer again because I have him in a contaminated home full of pollution," she said.
Despite repeatedly being told to be patient, she had praise for Kerzic, the toxicologist and Sean McClain, the point person at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. They were always "more than willing" to take her calls, she said.
"They've been very helpful this whole time."
Grider was ecstatic after learning that her home will now be tested.
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