The developer of a controversial housing project scheduled to be built on property that was once a former naval torpedo testing facility said he would request the site be tested for chemicals used in explosives.
Trammell Crow Co. (TCC) wants to build 500 residential units at 3200 E. Foothill Blvd., in East Pasadena, currently the site of Space Bank, a public storage business. The project would include 69 affordable rental units, proposed subterranean parking and above-ground parking structures, landscaping and nearly 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
Caltech used the site for research into jet propulsion in the 1930s and maintained it during World War II. The Navy purchased the property from Caltech in 1945 and used it for classified projects and torpedo testing.
“Trammell Crow Co. will ask the DTSC (Department of Toxic Substance Control) to include testing for RDX and TNT in the final RAW,” said TCC Senior Managing Director Brad Cox during last Monday’s City Council meeting. RAW is an acronym for removal action work plan. “We will conduct such testing under the oversight of the DTSC and the city’s third-party expert.”
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Royal Demolition Explosive (RDX) is an explosive that can be combined with other ingredients to make plastic explosives. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that RDX is a possible human carcinogen based on the presence of liver tumors in mice that were exposed to RDX for one to two years. People who inhaled large amounts of dust containing RDX suffered seizures.
Trinitrotoluene (TNT) can cause birth defects, spleen enlargement and abnormal liver function, according to the EPA.
“You’re 100 percent correct. We will be testing for the chemicals as requested,” said Cox after Councilman Victor Gordo, along with Councilman John Kennedy, prodded him for a guarantee at the April 29 meeting of the City Council.
Gordo and Councilman Gene Masuda, whose district includes the property in question, have been the staunchest critics of the project on the City Council and have repeatedly called on Mayor Terry Tornek to bring the project back to the council for further consideration.
Gordo, Masuda and Councilman Tyron Hampton unsuccessfully opposed the project last July.
Gordo took the DTSC to task at the council’s April 29 meeting, citing a February state Senate report that pointed out the department’s shortcomings in “fiscal mismanagement, inconsistent record keeping, insufficient administrative processes and lack of transparency.”
After a meeting in March with more than 100 community members, Gordo and Masuda sent a letter to the DTSC demanding the review date of the RAW be extended by 90 days. Instead, the DTSC agreed to a 21-day extension, pushing the deadline to April 30, prompting Tornek to send a similar letter, which was also denied. However, the city received a break after the DTSC mistakenly began listing the review deadline as May 14, and later agreed to honor that date due to the error, according to City Manager Steve Mermell.
Tornek said a great deal of misinformation has been spread about the project.
“I think there’s a misunderstanding,” Tornek said. “I think what people have been told is that if the work begins that the housing is going to go ahead without the site being cleaned up. That’s not correct. The site must be cleaned up and certified before the housing can proceed. And so that I think is the misinformation, the feeling that if they start to move dirt on the site that means that people are going to be moved onto a toxic site. And that’s not correct. They have to move the dirt to remove the toxic materials, but they won’t be allowed to build the housing until the state has certified that the site has been remediated.”
If the cleanup is not completed properly, the city could take legal steps to force the removal of the toxins.
According to Cox, TCC is only requesting the testing to alleviate concerns of nearby neighbors.
“The DTSC Removal Action Work plan does not currently include testing for RDX and TNT because the site was used for the research and development, and not the manufacturing of delivery systems for torpedoes,” said Cox. “There is no evidence that these substances, which are used in warheads, were used on the site.”
Cox said the group will ask for a clean-up plan if the chemicals are discovered at the site.
“It’s essential that the future Pasadena residents who will reside in this project are living in a safe environment, and their health is protected from any impacts of materials onsite or in the groundwater,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin. “The DTSC has jurisdiction over the cleanup, but I think the city’s engagement of a consultant with expertise in this area to provide us with additional assurances as to the adequacy of the DTSC work and fulfillment of the Removal Action Work Plan imposed on the developer will give us an extra level of certainty as to the actions planned and properly undertaken to remediate the site.”
Councilman Andy Wilson said he still supports the project but called for all health concerns to be dealt with.
“Health and safety issues must be fully addressed,” Wilson said. “I understand that some community members feel the plan in this area is insufficient.”
Representatives from Trammell say that the weapons were not manufactured at the site. Critics disagree with that claim and say other weapons could have been manufactured at the site under classified designations, leaving behind dangerous carcinogens and toxins that could create health risks if the state agency does not plan a full cleanup.
Recent environmental tests indicate the presence of hazardous materials in the soil and soil vapor, and potentially in groundwater beneath the property.
Local residents claimed victory after TCC agreed to the tests and credited the city for hiring the consulting company Alta Environmental to monitor the cleanup.
“Even though it was well known that RDX, a neurotoxin, was used in rockets and torpedoes manufactured on the 3200 E. Foothill Blvd site, the Department of Toxic Substances Control failed to require the developer to include it among the Contaminants of Concern (COC) destined for removal,” wrote Gary Smith in an update on a online petition calling for full testing and cleanup of the site.
“This victory took place largely because the city of Pasadena hired an outside consultant, Alta Environmental, to evaluate whether the RAW was adequate to protect the safety of children,” Smith wrote.