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Update: Lincoln Heights Avenue 34 Residents Fear the Health Impacts of Demolishing Toxic Site Next Door

4/28/22 Update: In a statement made to L.A. TACO, The Pinyon Group said, "The Project will not have loaded haul trucks containing any contaminated soil exiting the project site onto Avenue 34 during the site cleanup. The Project will follow all of the strict regulatory requirements regarding the removal, transport and disposal of such materials under DTSC oversight."

Residents of Lincoln Heights living near a massive development site with a history of contamination fear being unnecessarily exposed to potentially toxic chemicals and debris when tens of thousands of cubic yards of soil get excavated and hauled away.

Construction workers are days away from breaking ground at 141 Avenue 34, a former industrial complex that's being converted into a multi-use building with more than 460 apartments—including 66 “very low income” units.

Welch's uniform laundering facility, a former commercial linen and apparel laundering service, operated for more than 60 years directly next door to the development, exposing the area to toxic chemicals. The site was closed around 1988. In 2007, the owners of the property at the time enrolled in a “voluntary cleanup agreement” to address environmental concerns.

Proposed truck route for the Avenue 34 project in Lincoln Heights.
Proposed truck route for the Avenue 34 project in Lincoln Heights.

Given the proximity to the Welch facility, residents grew worried about plans to develop the lot next door in 2020. After months of organizing and putting pressure on local and state officials, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) ordered the developers associated with the project to conduct tests on the site, which ultimately revealed elevated levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene, (PCE) as well as other potentially cancer-causing chemicals at the site.

More recently, those same residents discovered, through amateur sleuthing, that another neighboring strip of land near the site was used as an illegal toxic waste dump. According to a 1984 investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, employees with the American Caster Corporation illegally buried more than 250 barrels of leaking toxic waste. The documents only came to light after a resident conducted an archival search of news clippings. There’s no mention of the contamination in a DTSC public database.

Representatives for the Pinyon Group have previously denied that the site is contaminated, pointing to a “no further action” letter from the DTSC. A request for comment sent to Pinyon Group was not returned as of publishing.

Plans for the project were approved by the city in the summer of 2020. An appeal was rejected in October of last year. Now local residents are worried they may be exposed to toxic debris, as tens of thousands of cubic yards of soil are removed from the site over the coming months. A notice attached to a perimeter fence says that “site preparation and demolition” is set to begin on May 2.

“[The developer] had promised that the trucks would travel onto the Welch’s property to the north, away from neighbors,” Michael Hayden, a member of the Lincoln Heights Community Coalition, wrote in a recent email to supporters. “But now they are doing just the opposite, using Welch's only as a parking lot, and directing all trucks onto Avenue 34. In what seems like retaliation against the same neighbors who have been most vocal about the toxic waste on this property... ”

Hayden describes Avenue 34, west of Pasadena Avenue, as a “narrow residential street.” He’s worried about his health, his front yard garden as well as his neighbor, who is elderly, doesn’t speak English, and also grows food in her yard.

On Wednesday, Hayden told L.A. TACO he was given the runaround when he raised questions about the truck route approval process with local and state officials. When Hayden reached out to DTSC, they told him the city was responsible for the truck route. When he reached the city, they sent him back to DTSC. Later, a representative for DTSC confirmed they’re the agency responsible for the route.

“DTSC is willing to lie to the community, saying they’re not the agency responsible for this when they are the agency responsible for this.” Hayden says it seems like DTSC is doing everything they can to stay out of the way of the developer.

According to a “remedial design and implementation plan” filed by the Pinyon Group, “the haul route will be determined based on the location of the landfill. Drivers will be required to follow these routes when both arriving at and leaving the site. The final haul route will be provided to DTSC.”

In a recent email, Hayden encouraged residents to reach out to Councilmember Gil Cedillo and a list of city and state officials to protest the truck route, ahead of a public DTSC meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m.

 “We are all afraid right now, and we are so thankful for everyone's help getting this dangerous plan changed," Hayden says. "We have been told by local officials that the only way to stop this part of the plan at this point is through public outcry.”

A spokesperson for Cedillo did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

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