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Clouds of Arsenic Soil Threatening to Blow Through Bev Hills

Poisons in the air are so in right now. There's the oil "misting" in West Adams and the ongoing gas leak in Porter Ranch—it's truly a magical time to be a negligent utility or land company in Los Angeles! Now it looks like Beverly Hills wants in on the red hot contamination trend: the Beverly Hills Courier reports that some questionable activity at lots known to have toxic soil is threatening to blow arsenic-laced clouds through the city. Even better: the lots are very close to the weekly site of the Beverly Hills Farmers' Market.

Earlier this year, traces of arsenic were found on a parcel of land that had been the site of Pacific Electric Railroad tracks decades earlier. The five-acre strip runs parallel to Santa Monica Boulevard from Doheny to Alpine Drive and is owned by the Beverly Hills Land Company. Arsenic levels of 16-998 mg/kg (arsenic occurs naturally at a level of 25 mg/kg) were discovered in the soil, with the highest levels at only zero to five feet, and the Department of Toxic Substance Control was contacted to solve the problem.

The DTSC proposed three solutions: cap the affected areas, remove contaminated soil, or do nothing (the "do nothing" options is really just a control to compare the other solutions with). The city put the matter up to public debate, even extending the discussion for two months to get more input. But then the Beverly Hills Land Company got inpatient.

During the weekend before Thanksgiving, the BHLC removed more than 190 trees from the lots, effectively leaving the contaminated soil with nothing to anchor it or shield it from the wind. DTSC was supposed to heavily monitor any activity on the site to make sure it was done safely, but the BHLC went ahead without approval or supervision. The DTSC was not notified of any work on the site, even though a 48-hour advance notice is required for any work performed. All workers must also be OSHA-certified and a water truck must be onsite to dampen soil before it can send toxins floating. The city of Beverly Hills was caught off guard by the activity on the site, and has yet to pinpoint the party responsible. But for the time being, its main focus is on the implications of newly exposed, arsenic-laced soil in the middle of Santa Ana season.

But what about the farmers' market down the block from the toxic site? The city put out a press release saying the DTSC had reassured them that there was "no danger to the community from toxic substances [...] as long as no activity is taking place on the site that disturbs the soil," meaning the farmers' market could go on as planned. Phew. But when contacted by the Courier shortly after that statement, DTSC officials were astonished to find out that no wind barrier had been erected on the site and that fencing posts had been dug several inches into the toxic soil. This was news to them. The DTSC official "abruptly cut off the phone call" with the reporter to contact Beverly Hills City Hall immediately. Vice Mayor John Mirisch, also unaware of current conditions at the toxic site, quickly followed up with the paper saying that the farmers' market press release was "irresponsible" and the area should be avoided until further arsenic testing has taken place.

Right now, an investigation is underway as Beverly Hills officials scramble to solve the arsenic problem. The Beverly Hills City Council has put a priority on the item, and will take up discussion of solutions when it meets in early January. In the mean time, the DTSC is asking the Beverly Hills Land Company to immediately fix the fence, bring a water truck on site, and brainstorm long-term solutions for dust control.
· Toxic Tree Cutting Mistake Raises Dust In Beverly Hills [Beverly Hills Courier]
· Public Comment Period For Toxic Cleanup Extended [Beverly Hills Courier]
· An Insane Amount of Natural Gas is Leaking Into the Valley's Porter Ranch Neighborhood [Curbed LA]
· Report: Oil Drilling Runs Rampant in LA's Poor, Dense, and Non-White Neighborhoods [Curbed LA]