There used to be a combination Arco gas station and AM/PM market at Rosecrans and Alameda in Compton — a smoggy little spot beneath the train-track overpass.

During the L.A. Riots, however, 20 years ago to the month…

… the gas station burned to the ground in a cloud of social unrest. Only the little roof in the middle of the station remained.

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Well, that and three 10,000-gallon gas tanks buried underground, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who's on a $1.3 million mission to clean up 29 abandoned gas stations across southern L.A. County.

On Thursday, EPA officials tackled the Compton site — pulling the tanks out with a crane and a backhoe after 20 years of neglect.

Here's what they found, according to project leader Steve Linder:

Three single-walled steel tanks, mostly empty but with a couple sketchy holes in the side that could indicate their contents leaked into the ground. (Either that, or somebody came and sucked all the gas out of them — a last-ditch attempt at profiting off this sorry old Arco station.)

The tanks were rusty, says Linder, and the dirt they were buried in showed some “signs of staining.”

If the tanks have been leaking into the ground, there is some danger that oil could be mixing with groundwater.

“The groundwater in the area is used for drinking water,” says Linder. “The nearest well is 3/4 of a mile away. Over time, this stuff may continue to seep into the groundwater, which degrades the water in area.”

He says that EPA contractors are currently taking soil samples to get a better understanding of the level of contamination left behind — but they “probably won't know for about a month.”

Fingers crossed. Either way, though, yesterday's excavation 'twas a sight to behold:

Credit: EPA

Credit: EPA

Credit: EPA

Credit: EPA

Linder says that after the tanks were craned out of their 20-year graves, a “vacuum truck” sucked all the air out of them to “avoid a flammable situation.” The tanks were then filled with dry ice to prevent them from exploding. (Awesome.)

Credit: EPA

Credit: EPA

We noticed that all 29 excavation sites throughout L.A. County are concentrated in the more low-income neighborhoods — throughout East L.A., South L.A. and the Harbor area.

Linder says that's because abandoned stations are somewhat of an epidemic in places where property values are lower, and therefore less incentive exists to reclaim the land.

“You're not seeing properties like this in Beverly Hills,” says Linder.

At the Arco in Compton, for instance, the station owners were already in bankruptcy when L.A. Rioters razed through. According to Linder, “they owed over $200,000 in back taxes.” So they walked away, and are now “taking no responsibility for the land.”

That's where the EPA comes in.

The feds will be spending anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 on the Compton site alone, in an attempt to eliminate any remaining environmental hazards. And from there, says Linder, city and county officials (including the successors to the Compton Redevelopment Agency) will do what they can to turn it from a blight magnet back into a functioning part of the neighborhood.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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