By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Despite such stories, one recent study dismissed the notion that people living in the Chino Hills neighborhood are contracting cancers at an abnormally high rate. A recent report by the Desert Cancer Surveillance Program, at Loma Linda University Medical Center, found that cancer cases increased 61 percent from 1990 to 1996, but that the population had gone up 80 percent during the same period.
Lawyer Michael Bidart is not convinced by the study. His March 1 lawsuit claims that 5,000 pounds of Aerojet poisons annually leached into the ground, percolating “into the water table under the area and into local aboveground water sources that are drinking sources . . . and used for household purposes such as bathing and washing.”
Aerojet’s environmental record is far from stellar. Two other sites of company factories, in the San Gabriel Valley and Sacramento County, are now designated as Superfund sites, which are contaminated areas targeted for special, high-priority government intervention.
Strangely enough, the Chino Hills location is not a Superfund site. In fact, Aerojet would like it certified as safe so it could sell the valuable land. Already, major developers have eyed the property and the vacant land around it. The Catellus Residential Group proposed a 270-home development last year, next to the facility. It was to include an 18-hole public golf course and a place for a fire station. The $17.4 million venture was rejected by the Chino Hills City Council last July on a 4-1 vote, after community members voiced concerns about school overcrowding and the possibility that excavation work could release toxins from contaminated dirt. And in February, the city revoked a grading permit for a different proposed upscale development. The reason: concerns about unexploded ordnance that were raised by the DTSC.
Despite numerous “hunt and peck” and field-magnetometer searches of the area for unexploded munitions, some parts of the facility are so polluted that the explosives had to be left in the ground. In 1996, McLaren/Hart, Aerojet’s environmental contractor, commissioned Wyle Laboratories of Norco to sweep the site for ordnance. In one test area, the report noted, “Sweep data indicates the presence of buried metallic objects; however, no excavation to identify was performed because of depleted uranium (DU) contamination.” At another test range, “Extensive intrusive investigations were not conducted because of the potential for DU exposure.”
Mother Nature also played a hand in making it almost impossible to ensure that the site is free from armaments. Wyle Laboratories found that “Sections have apparently undergone a landslide, and if any ordnance contamination is present, it will be located very deep within the hillside.”
Taking Aerojet to task for its problems in Chino Hills won’t be easy, claim activists monitoring the situation. Chino Hills is filled with business-friendly Republicans who feel more of a natural affinity to Aeorojet than to environmentalists. Besides that, many are terrified by the prospect that the resale prices of their homes could plummet. “Are their values attached to protecting the health of their family, or do they care more about property values?” commented Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Parfrey.
“It’s been a nightmare living up here,” exclaimed longtime resident Carol Dobrikin, who worries that she may never be able to sell her home. But for Fred Sharp, there are more immediate worries than cancer clusters and the deformed frogs with up to six legs that his neighbor’s kids regularly find in the creeks near Aerojet. “As the water comes down that creek, there is more ordnance that is going to start showing up,” he said. “I just want to know who is going to be responsible for it.”
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