By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In a couple of Daily Newsarticles about Belmont or Playa Vista, the paper defined Endres as the "lead investigator" into the Fairfax blast. Other Belmont activists also have identified him as such, though he did not make that claim in recent interviews with the Weekly.
"I wish we had a lead investigator," said Joseph Cobarrubias, who was, at the time, the city’s chief engineering geologist and the primary author of the 1985 city task-force report on the Ross Dress For Less explosion. "I could have used a lot of help. I never laid eyes on the man." Cobarrubias later chaired the second and final task force that examined Fairfax’s methane issues. He added of Endres: "He never submitted reports to the city. I never heard of the guy before his testimony" to the Belmont Commission, which reviewed the project in 1999.
Regarding the Fairfax incident, the methane task forces were not able to reach a definitive conclusion about what caused the explosion.
But then as now, Endres had strong opinions. As for Belmont, could anything have salvaged that project? the Weekly asked. Endres could think of no economical solution. Building a safe Belmont, he says, would have required placing the school and its playgrounds on top of giant concrete stilts.KAYE H. KILBURN
Kaye Kilburn is a man on a mission. His crusade is to do battle with hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a deadly toxin, the study of which has consumed a substantial portion of his academic career. As a USC professor with valid academic credentials, Kilburn has the ultimate trump card when it comes to the Belmont Learning Complex. The presence of hydrogen sulfide in the soil, he says, makes the place a death trap.
This assessment has made Kilburn, along with environmental activist Bernard Endres, the twin Belmont killers, who together have lent academic authority to those opposing the project. Kilburn’s views, however, taken to their logical conclusion, would apply well beyond Belmont. It could easily follow that much of Los Angeles is an apocalypse waiting to happen.
Without question, hydrogen sulfide, known for its distinctive rotten-egg odor, is bad news. The consequences of breathing substantial doses include headaches, eye irritation, pulmonary damage and, in concentrations heavy enough, neural damage or death.
As with other academic debates, however, the field of hydrogen sulfide research is a continuum. At one end are the voices who minimize the harm of hydrogen sulfide – the same breed perhaps who once thought that lead was OK in drinking water. At the far, far otherend of the continuum is the 69-year-old Kilburn.
The mainstream view holds that nothing conclusive is known about the long-term effects of minute, chronic exposure to hydrogen sulfide. Not so, says Kilburn: "Hydrogen sulfide probably kills brain cells at first pass."
Kilburn has taught at various medical schools, including Duke University, since he graduated from the University of Utah’s School of Medicine in 1954, and has been a professor at USC since 1980. He has authored several studies on hydrogen sulfide’s neural effects. Even minute exposure over a month impacts the brain, he says, wiping out memory and the ability to concentrate.
Kilburn sets the potential danger level at one-tenth of a part per million (that is, if you divide the air into 1 million parts, one-tenth of 1 part would be hydrogen sulfide). At that concentration, alarms should sound and people should run away upwind, he testified in 1999 before the Belmont Commission, which was assembled to review the Belmont project.
Kilburn’s danger threshold cannot be cavalierly dismissed, because government agencies typically set exposure-limit levels for adults, not children — whose developing bodies are more sensitive to toxins. And health standards generally become more exacting over time. Thus, the "acceptable" level of lead in water has consistently gotten smaller and smaller.
Kilburn says preventing hydrogen sulfide from rising to the surface at Belmont is impossible. Any viewpoint to the contrary "is about as ridiculous a belief as in the tooth fairy…Impervious layers are not. Gases, particularly hydrogen sulfide, go through concrete."
Hydrogen sulfide research, he adds, needs to be revolutionized. "It’s just like Einstein had to ferret out all the people who believed that there was no connection between mass and energy," he says. "Now we’ve got another field that’s well on it’s way to being revolutionized."
"I know people object," he concedes, but "the truth is the truth. It doesn’t take repetition to know what the truth is. You have a mechanism. You have 150 years of killing people from hydrogen sulfide overdose."
In interviews, Kilburn gamely tried to apply his theories consistently. Subways in Los Angeles, he acknowledges, might also be deadly because the tunnels pass through pockets of hydrogen sulfide and because, following his Belmont logic, safety systems don’t work. Then there are the eight public schools built on or near the same oil field as Belmont. It would also follow that these schools should be evacuated as well as hundreds of homes and business also on the 800-acre oil field. And portions of the Wilshire District have concentrations of hydrogen sulfide comparable to Belmont, according to a study completed for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.