The Pasadena City Council on Monday voted unanimously to send a letter to the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) questioning a Draft Removal Action Workplan [DRAW] regarding the toxic cleanup of a formal naval weapons test site in East Pasadena that’s set to become a housing and retail complex.

Meanwhile, Stop Toxic Housing, a group pushing for the total cleanup of the site at 3200 E. Foothill Blvd., has launched a Gofundme page. The group has raised $1,270 of a goal of $5,500 with which they plan to hire a lawyer.  The group intends to file a lawsuit against DTSC and the city of Pasadena which would force several changes to the proposed project.

“For 30 years, the site had been manufacturing and testing military weapons,” wrote Tina Fredericks, a member of Stop Toxic Housing, on her Facebook page on Saturday. “My daughter’s school is the closest school to the site. I work one block from this site. As a renter, I appreciate the urgency of needing more housing but not at the cost of causing cancer in children. Stop Toxic Housing in Pasadena supports safe and responsible housing development. While a majority of Pasadena City Council has been passive on this, Stop Toxic Housing in Pasadena will be taking this to court.”

In July, the City Council voted to approve the mixed-use project to include 550 apartments, 69 of them available at affordable pricing, and 9,800 square feet of space for retail businesses and restaurants on the 8.53-acre site.

Council members Tyron Hampton, Victor Gordo and Gene Masuda opposed the project. Gordo and Masuda have called on the DTSC to extend the deadline for the public to comment on the RAW for toxins found at the site. The deadline was extended until May 14, after the DTSC refused to grant the extension, but published the wrong date on its website.

The developer, the Trammel Crow Co., earlier this month committed to testing for royal demolition explosive (RDX) and trinitrotoluene (TNT), but maintained explosives were not tested at the site.

“There is no evidence of RDX or TNT,” wrote Neal H. Holdridge, principal environmental manager at Trammell Crow Co., in an April 29 letter to City Manager Steve Mermell, Planning Director David Reyes and City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris.

“Contrary to certain assertions, the historic record does not indicate that the site is contaminated with RDX and TNT,” Holdridge wrote. “Nor is there any evidence that these compounds (which are explosives that are used in warheads) were used onsite. The site was a research and development facility for prototype fabrication and delivery testing — propulsion, pressure, and guidance testing.” 

The site, now the Space Bank Mini-Storage facility, housed the Naval Information Research Foundation from 1940-1978 according to the DTSC. During that time, the US Navy conducted testing and other scientific work involving “classified materials, testing and other weapons,” the DTSC wrote in a report about the site in 2018.

“They don’t listen very well,” said retired union organizer Gary Smith. “We said it’s in the propellant. In the Chino Hills Rocketdyne site, percholorate, RDX and TNT were all over the place and they were only testing small arms and the solid fuels rockets just like the Pasadena site.”

The property was purchased in 1979 by Robert Oltman, who also with his wife Arlene started the now closed Pasadena Museum of California Art. Oltman did not return phone calls seeking comment on this story. 

Recent tests have revealed the presence of “hazardous materials in the soil and soil vapor, and potentially in groundwater beneath the property,” according to a city report, which does not identify the hazardous materials mentioned.

According to the group’s Gofundme page, the lawsuit will demand full site testing and cleanup before any development can begin, a change in the project design to include better pollution control and filtration systems, and carbon air-filtration systems that will better protect residents from nearby freeway air pollution, including diesel particles and volatile organic compounds.

The group plans to hire local attorney Mitchell Tsai, who was hired to fight the city’s archery ordinance in 2015.

“I can’t speak to the case yet,” Tsai told the Pasadena Weekly on Monday. “They have contacted me and we have come to an agreement. I believe the final RAW is still being worked on so there is nothing to sue for yet. But based on information the city has uncovered and what would happen if the project was to move forward, significant information has come out on the project. The city should put it on hold and conduct supplemental environmental review.”

The group wants toxins at the site removed before construction begins. According to Tsai, the group is also concerned about potential health problems that could be caused by placing residents too close to the freeway.

On Monday, the council unanimously approved a letter to the DTSC written by Alta Environmental, a consulting firm hired by the city to provide oversight of the DTSC’s Removal Action Workplan.

The letter will include several changes recommended by Gordo and Masuda that call for testing of the soil and groundwater. The letter will now also ask why there was not a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) which calls for a more robust toxic removal, instead of a Removal Action Workplan, or RAW.

“Numerous and varied laboratories were identified at the site, including combustion, chemistry, hydro-propellants, welding, hydrodynamics, structures, metallurgy, experimental physics, ballistics and simulator labs,” the letter reads.

The letter calls for the DTSC to investigate the use of explosive chemicals RDX and TNT at the site, the installation of a slurry cap at the site if the presence of toxic chemicals are above the state’s cleanup goals, and reclassify the Draft RAW as a shallow soil plan since the groundwater investigation has not been completed.

“These chemicals TNT and RDX were used extensively in the manufacture of munitions and accounts for a large part of the explosives contamination at active and former US military installations,” according to the consultant’s letter. “Based on this information, the city recognizes a potential for RDX and TNT to be a chemical of concern … and as such recommends the development of a DTSC approved sampling plan to investigate the presence of those chemicals onsite.”

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, RDE 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 the substance 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.

“We want a project that is safe,” said Masuda. “People should not have these concerns where they live.”