Demolition of four buildings at Watts’ Jordan Downs could begin "any day now," says the Los Angeles Housing Authority. The buildings are set to be razed even though there are still unanswered questions about whether there is lead-tainted soil on the property that needs to be removed. KPCC reports that activists and residents want to see more soil samples studied before demolition begins; their main concern is that the process of razing the buildings would kick up dust that could potentially contain elevated levels of lead and other harmful substances.
The demolition of the Jordan Downs housing project is part of a plan to replace the housing project with a big, new mixed-use complex, including new apartments, condos, retail, and restaurants. (This redevelopment has faced numerous delays.)
Jordan Downs is located next to, "a former steel mill now identified as a brownfield." The city is cleaning up the brownfield; lead, arsenic, and other toxins found on the site. Jordan Downs residents say they're worried these hazardous elements might have wafted from the steel mill to the property on which they live.
"Until we know what is in the soil, it’s really inappropriate to be demolishing buildings that are lying on top of that soil, which may spread contaminants around the community," said an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of L.A., which is working with residents on this issue.
KPCC notes that lead is especially harmful to pregnant women and children, and that over half of the people who live at Jordan Downs are under the age of 18.
Just how much lead is in the soil at Jordan Downs has been up for debate for years. A 2014 study of the soil by the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) resulted in a "no further action" decision, and the state said that clean-up wasn’t necessary.
The 2014 samples had ranged from 80 parts per million to 145 parts per million, and the state’s threshold for residential cleanup is 80 ppm. The study results were averaged out so that the overall result was 80 ppm. The study is now being revisited as part of a larger review of the state scientist who approved the "no further action" decision. The review is still in progress.
The DTSC twice sent letters to the Housing Authority "this summer," asking it to do its own soil testing. The letters came after residents of Jordan Downs rented an XRF gun (the instrument used by government officials to test the soil), found more than 50 samples that had elevated levels of lead, and shared their findings with the state agency and the Housing Authority.
The Housing Authority says it has taken soil samples from the areas surrounding the buildings set to be razed, but it doesn’t expect to have results for three more weeks and isn’t planning on delaying the demolition to wait for those results. "We don’t think there has been any evidence that show elevated levels on the site that we are aware of," the head of the Housing Authority tells KPCC.