On January 9, 2008, EnviroReporter.com visited the biomedical nuclear and chemical dump at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Brentwood, an upscale neighborhood in west Los Angeles. We were there to see if the VA had finally begun Phase Two of its investigation and characterization of this site that we exposed in May 2006. This was the first time that we noticed these tombstones emerging from the soil on a hillside in the dump. They appeared to be soldiers’ gravestones. Indeed, they were.
West LA VA director Donna Beiter responds to LA Weekly's "Brentwood's Toxic Grave" article and questions about soldiers' tombstones found in biomedical nuclear and chemical dump. Beiter says VA removed tombstones, saying no rules were broken and that Phase Two testing will "put to rest any concerns that our property is unsafe." Before and after gallery shows removed grave markers. LA Weekly blog post "Grave Mistakes" analyzes VA moves.
The white marble slabs of the tombstones stood out, contrasting with the dirt, plants, concrete rubble and rebar in this part of the dump. The VA operates a huge Veterans' cemetery on the other side of the property where VA supervisors and workers should know that it is against federal regulations to dump recognizable soldiers' tombstones anywhere let alone a nuclear dump.
A few of the tombstones reveal the full identities of the soldiers that were carved into them. “Rodriguez” died in 1971 after serving in World War II in the army. His headstone is busted in half so his birth date is missing as well as his first name. Ten markers in all have emerged from dirt since this reporter first spotted them January 9, 2008.
Fourteen months after EnviroReporter.com first spotted the disgarded soldiers' grave markers, nothing had been done to remedy the situation even though the tombstones sat in plain sight. The only change was that the weeds and brush had begun to grow back after the VA had cut back weeds and plants in 2006.
The biomedical nuclear and chemical dump at the West LA VA in Brentwood is supposed to be a closed site. Repeatedly, over the years, EnviroReporter.com has seen people access this dump usually chasing errant soccer balls. In this case, a man is walking through the dump with a child on his back.
The dump looked deader than usual with the vegetation suffering in the continuing drought. The tombstones looked more obvious than ever and we experienced the repeated surprise that the VA hadn't noticed this ghoulish 'graveyard.' This time around, we noticed that the northern gate to the dump was open, leading directly to Brentwood School's lower soccer field where girls were booting the ball around.
This later winter trip to the dump produced no surprises - the soldiers' gravestones still lay jutting out of the hillside of the West LA VA's biomedical nuclear and chemical dump. That changed when I realized I wasn't alone. A site inspection was taking place with someone from the government, presumably the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, along with two VA employees. An overheard conversation proves revealing before the team leaves to inspect other nuclear facilities on the property.
Thick brush now filled the dump but didn't conceal the tombstones. The gate from the dump leading into Brentwood School's shared-lease property was still open as it had been months before. One sport's dominance trumps another's as a baseball field in turned into a soccer pitch. More expensive soccer balls will be kicked into the nuke dump with players going after them.
EnviroReporter.com visits the Los Angeles National Cemetery to show where information on the soldier "Rodriguez" was found. Photographs of the beautiful cemetery, where soldiers' tombstones are in beautiful condition, are haunted by a homeless man holding aloft Vietnam-era helmet on a stick.