VA hurriedly cleans up abandoned gravestones at Brentwood site of historic toxic dump

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Fri, Dec 18, 2009 at 11:45 AM

By Michael Collins

click to enlarge VA crews prepare to test soil in area historic documents show is clean. In background is an untested slope that documents show contains dumped material.
  • VA crews prepare to test soil in area historic documents show is clean. In background is an untested slope that documents show contains dumped material.

The L.A. Weekly's recent article "Brentwood's Toxic Grave" about soldiers' tombstones haphazardly discarded in the West Los Angeles VA's historic dump, angered veterans. "Obviously, this is a matter of concern for The American Legion," says Ian de Planque, assistant director of cemetery affairs. "The mistreatment of the tombstones, even if they are meant for disposal, is very disturbing.

Disturbing enough that by Tuesday, a few days after the article was published, the tombstones were gone, or at least the most visible ones. VA director Donna Beiter says the headstones were buried in the 1970s with debris from an old building. "During our investigation, we found that these grave markers were removed, and disposed of (including the breaking up of the stones) according to VA regulation and came from replacements discarded from the VA cemetery during the same time period."

How's that again? The VA's own regulations appear to strongly disagree:

The federal regulations read: "Marble and granite headstones or markers
that are permanently removed from a grave must be destroyed, ensuring
that the inscription is no longer legible." As photo galleries on EnviroReporter.com show, the tombstones are legible,  and
many are intact.

Beiter says the VA is "currently conducting a
surface and subsurface Environmental study of the 'arroyo' area located
to the east of the Barrington Park Recreation center to put to rest any
concerns that our property is unsafe."

Over the six days that the
Weekly observed this $1 million "phase two" soil testing, the VA
contractors took core samples in areas that historic and archival documents show are either
filled with inert dirt -- or are hundreds of yards away from the dump's
known areas.

Confining the testing to the arroyo
means that Brentwood School's lower soccer field, which tested high for radiation  in phase one of the study, won't be tested -- nor will the
heart of the dump that runs underneath part of Barrington Dog Park.

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