Grave Mistakes

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Last month’s LA Weekly news article Brentwood’s Toxic Grave angered veterans and civilians alike. Soldiers’ tombstones disposed of in the West LA VA’s biomedical nuclear and chemical dump were inexplicably ignored by workers as the VA commenced a controversial second round of toxics testing.

“Obviously, this is a matter of concern for The American Legion,” said Ian de Planque, assistant director of cemetery affairs. “The mistreatment of the tombstones, even if they are meant for disposal is very disturbing.”

Disturbing enough that within days of the article’s publishing in the paper, the tombstones were gone, or at least the most visible of them. But that didn’t bury the anger caused by the ghoulish graveyard of gravestones surfacing in the dump which operated from 1948 to 1968, the result of radiation tests on animals and humans at UCLA and the VA.

The VA’s fast action unearthing the visible grave markers is in stark contrast to the two years it took to initiate the $1 million Phase II testing that began in late November as reported on in the Weekly. The work follows Phase I testing in December 2006 after the nuclear dump was first exposed by EnviroReporter.com the preceding May.

EnviroReporter.com’s Phase I analysis found numerous flaws in the testing including the avoidance of testing known dump areas as has happened again in Phase II. Yet even with Phase I’s limitations, the Phase II testing appears to have ignored radiation-marking red flags from Phase I testing, instead sampling soil far from where the known dump maps indicate haphazardly buried radioactive animal carcasses and barrels of chemicals.

Now with some, but probably not all, of the veterans’ tombstones removed from the dump, and a refusal to answer a comprehensive list of LA Weekly and EnviroReporter.com questions for the VA, doubts remain whether the department will ever fully investigate, excavate and remediate the dump.

Since the Weekly article appeared, local leaders, like Representative Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, have expressed concern about the Phase II testing. Waxman’s office, which was aware of the Phase II assessment since September, requested a copy of our questions for the VA which we sent December 16.

No public notice was given about the testing or how it was to be conducted either by the VA or Waxman’s office. But photographs obtained by EnviroReporter.com confirm what extensive on-scene observation suggested; the VA’s Phase II contractors are coring for soil samples for laboratory analysis in the wrong places.

The secretive analyses, which ignore the recommendations and previous Phase I testing in 2006, will leave the known areas of the nuclear dump untested and untouched. This includes areas underneath Barrington Recreational Center and its off-leash dog park. Phase II testing also ignored the western arroyo that borders upscale condominiums along Barrington Avenue and the lower soccer field of Brentwood School.

“The average readings for the East Arroyo, West Arroyo and the Brentwood School lower soccer fields were notably above” control areas with natural levels of radiation, according to the Phase I report which recommended further investigation, citing “strong concern by members of the community,” historical documentation of dumping, and radiation detected by the Phase I contractor.

The VA’s response to the LA Weekly & EnviroReporter.com investigation indicates a different and unexplained reading of the regulations regarding soldiers’ tombstones. The West LA VA director Donna Beiter’s statement came after Erik J. Gutierrez, a “Stakeholder Relations Representative” from the West LA VA’s Office of External Affairs, refused our list of questions submitted after he left a voicemail message indicating he would “love to answer” our questions.

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  1. Brian Hand says:

    I Stayed at the wla Veterans hopital for over a year in 1998-9 and one of my favorite shortcuts thru the grounds was past an old shop building it was littered with 1″x2″1/4 lead containers with radiation warning labels affixed the were most likely buried there in the 50’s

  2. Gretta says:

    I don’t understand why the gravestones were disposed of in the first place.

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