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Contaminated soil at Stringfellow site in Jurupa Valley to be moved

Riverside Press-Enterprise logo Riverside Press-Enterprise 8/6/2022 David Downey, The Press-Enterprise

To address Jurupa Valley’s anxiety, a state environmental agency plans to move large containers of contaminated-soil samples from Los Angeles County that are being stored at the Stringfellow acid pits.

“We expect to relocate the samples by the end of this year,” Elizabeth Scott, a spokesperson for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, said via email Friday, Aug. 5.

At the same time, Scott wrote, “We would like to reassure residents that the storage of the samples at the current site is legal and does not pose a health or safety risk to the surrounding community.”

Meredith Williams, director of the agency, which is under CalEPA, committed to moving the samples in a July 19 letter to Jurupa Valley Mayor Chris Barajas.

The department is responding to a demand to immediately move the samples that officials from the Riverside County city made in a June letter signed by Barajas. The letter contends the storage is illegal because California law states that Stringfellow “shall only be used to treat, store, transfer, or dispose of hazardous substances removed from that site.”

“It does satisfy our ask that it be removed,” Barajas said of the commitment. “We definitely would like for it to be much quicker. I wouldn’t say we are ecstatic about the four or five months.”

Barajas said he still doesn’t believe the storage is either safe or legal.

The Stringfellow site, north of the 60 Freeway at Pyrite Street in Jurupa Valley, is one of the nation’s most notorious toxic waste dumps. Between 1956 and 1972, millions of gallons of solvents, heavy metals and pesticides were dumped at a former rock quarry there. The dangerous substances leaked into underground water through fractures in bedrock that geology surveys failed to detect, threatening nearby drinking-water wells and the Santa Ana River. Cleanup could take hundreds of years.

City officials and activists say the community has been traumatized by the extensive pollution spread at Stringfellow. And they say Jurupa Valley should not have to fret over the storage, since 2018, of 188,000 soil samples — ranging from 8 to 12 ounces — that were collected from residential areas in the vicinity of the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon. The samples are being stored in sealed jars in six locked shipping containers in a parking lot at Stringfellow, agency spokesperson Allison Wescott said earlier.

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Williams wrote that the samples “are critical in DTSC’s ongoing cost-recovery litigation against former owners and operators of the Exide facility” and cannot be disposed of while the case, which could take several years, is pending. The samples have been tested for the presence of lead and other hazardous materials.

“We recognize the sensitivity of this matter in light of the long history of environmental injustices that Jurupa Valley’s residents have experienced,” Williams wrote. So, she wrote, the agency planned to move the samples to the RWP recycling facility at 34005 Gilman Springs Drive near San Jacinto.

“We were informed last Monday, August 1, the San Jacinto property has been sold and the recycling facility has nine months to vacate the land,” Scott said. “We remain committed to relocating the samples and are currently evaluating other locations.”

Scott also said the agency canceled plans to bring more containers of soil samples for storage at Stringfellow.

In her email, Scott wrote that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently inspected Stringfellow and concluded the state agency has been responsibly managing the soil samples, and that the storage does not violate hazardous waste rules.

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