The Bush Administration’s attempt to develop the West Los Angeles campus of the Department of Veterans Affairs was dealt a fatal blow Dec. 19, 2007 as both the House and Senate passed legislation by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California) and Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) that prohibits commercial development of the 387-acre property. As part of a larger bill, there seems little chance that President Bush will veto the legislation even though the Administration bemoans the loss of $4 billion in potential revenue.
One major roadblock that the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) initiative faced began with the May 18, 2006 publication of “Real Hot Property” in EnviroReporter.com and Los Angeles CityBeat, which exposed the biomedical nuclear and chemical dump on the northern part of this valuable underdeveloped land. The investigation broke the news of radioactive contamination being under exclusive and private Brentwood School’s athletic fields that it leases from the VA. The last CARES meeting was held in September 2005, right as this reporter began asking the VA questions about the dump being under the school.
“Why has it been two years? It is two years later because, quite frankly, the complexities of the issues on this campus were more than perhaps were expected and understood,” said Jay Halpern, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the VA Sept. 6. “And finally there were other issues that we ran into that were much more complicated; certainly the issue around the radiation of Barrington Park which we have addressed in the Phase One report coming out. Now enter the Phase Two study to insure that there is absolutely nothing there underneath there, [so that there isn’t] any indication that there is a danger before we move forward with that.”
“[The VA] said that they were going to spend a million bucks and they already knew they were going to find nothing,” an exasperated City of Los Angeles official said at the Sept. 6 meeting. “Can you believe that attitude?”
That attitude was repeated on KCET‘s “Life & Times” program aired Dec. 19, 2007 when the VA’s Ralph Tillman dismissed the idea of digging out the known dump without going through a more expensive boring process that the VA has planned for Phase II scheduled to begin this Spring. “From our perspective, there’s nothing to get out,” Tillman said. “In other words, it’s a safe environment. The land is safe, the surface is safe.”
The land may be even more dangerous than previously known. And it shows that in 1983, sub-surface soil boring of the kind proposed by the VA for 2008 testing, found nothing in the heart of the dump despite dozens of drilled holes, some up to nine feet deep.
New information reveals that the dump operated longer and was more vast, covering all of what is now Brentwood School’s upper and lower athletic fields.
Shocking reports analyzed herein, show that Brentwood School’s athletic fields seem to be contaminated with high levels of arsenic and “chronic” levels of the cancer-causing heavy metal thallium, found in amounts five times those typically found in hazardous wastes sites. This is doubly surprising since the places chosen to test were far away from areas suspected of radiological and chemical contamination yet were off the charts for the two poisons. More concerning is that they were called representative of the soil sampling of the entire athletic fields by other tests.
This suspect methodology, repeated throughout environmental tests of the Brentwood School since 1999, is made all the more troublesome in that the school’s contract with the VA says all decisions about hazardous waste on the “shared property” were to be made jointly, yet the Head of School, Michael Pratt, told “Life & Times” differently.
“But we had known before that there were burial sites on the VA property including several solid waste burial sites on our campus,” Pratt said. “When the excavation for the fields had been initially done, any debris that was uncovered was removed.”
That statement doesn’t seem to jibe with this one from a January 2000 environmental site assessment. “The syringes were often in plastic bags,” the report said. “The foreman indicated that there was so much unsuitable material (refuse) that the project was temporarily shut down until directed by a federal official (name unknown) not to excavate further and continue with a modified installation plan. The modified plan provided for the use of 3 to 4 feet of crushed asphalt to be placed over those areas with remaining unsuitable material to support the drain pipe.”
The syringes remained a problem according to another report completed later that year that stated, in handwritten notes, that syringes were found in the southern end zone of the football field and that “DEBRIS – SYRINGE W/O NEEDLE… IT APPEARS THAT RAIN HAS CAUSED DEBRIS JUST BELOW SURFACE TO RISE TO SURFACE”
The VA nuclear dump in Brentwood is far more polluted, far vaster and potentially more dangerous than previously imagined. Have the VA and Brentwood School tried to literally bury the dump’s potential dangers by characterizing them as harmless to the public and media? Perhaps but, in the process, they may have been derailed by their own documentation that shows evidence of their extraordinary incompetence or possibly deliberate cover-up of Brentwood’s forgotten biomedical nuclear and chemical dump.