A plume runs beneath a road in the Starlight Mobile Home Park in El Cajon. Oct. 18, 2016. Megan Wood/inewsource
A plume runs beneath a road in the Starlight Mobile Home Park in El Cajon. Oct. 18, 2016. Megan Wood/inewsource

Residents in an El Cajon neighborhood are just finding out their homes have been sitting above a shallow, toxic plume for more than half a century.

Even after all this time, no one knows whether trichloroethylene and other chemical vapors have seeped up from tainted groundwater and entered homes through cracks in concrete. There has been no testing.

[one_half]News in Numbers


Now that is changing. In the last few days some residents of the Starlight Mobile Home Park on East Bradley Avenue have received visits from state officials offering to test the air in their homes. The state will also test the air outside.

For Anne Beams, a former Department of Defense teacher who has lived at Starlight since the 1980s, the developments come as a surprise.

“No one at the park ever brought it to our attention,” she said. Until this week, she was unaware of the plume. It’s a legacy of a 20th century aerospace manufacturing plant that once operated several hundred feet away.

“Doesn’t it sound as though they were very slow in making those of us in Starlight aware of what could be happening to us all these years?” she said of state authorities.

Several residents asked a reporter about the location of the groundwater. But there is no  easily accessible map online, let alone one that is interactive. inewsource made one, based on a map provided by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
View larger map – click on a color in the plume to see approximate concentration

Yet the number of homes that lie inside a zone where groundwater is estimated to contain 1,000 micrograms of trichloroethylene per liter number more than the 19 where testing is being offered.  And a document provided by state officials recommends that any area where groundwater surpasses just five micrograms per liter be considered for further testing.

Some of the chemicals in the groundwater plume are carcinogenic, damaging to unborn babies and can cause male reproductive harm. If vapors come up through the soil and accumulate in poorly ventilated living spaces, people would be exposed.

The plume emanates from beneath a building immediately east of Magnolia Elementary School on Greenfield Drive. For years, companies under different names disposed of or stored spent chemicals in a shallow sump there. According to state documents, in some months as much as 7,000 gallons of used chemical could have been disposed of there. The hole was lined with planks, so the liquid leaked out. It flowed downhill, beneath the elementary school and past it, a total of 1.3 miles, petering out under Gillespie Field.

Now the firm Ametek has paid to install vents to reroute contaminated air from under the classroom concrete slabs. It will also pay to test the air in the homes of those residents who agree to testing.

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Ingrid Lobet is a reporter at inewsource specializing in the environment. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email ingridlobet@inewsource.org.

5 replies on “El Cajon homes to be tested, and a new map of a toxic plume”

  1. As a resident of Greenfield Mobile Home Park and someone who’s family has been subjected to these fumes at 20 times the acceptable levels, I thank you for staying vigilant on this story! Your google maps plume has us dead center in the red zone, which only goes to strengthen my suspicions I’ve had over the years. Please, keep this story in the news as much as possible! Those with any willful knowledge should be prosecuted in full!

  2. I live in Starlight and it looks like the groundwater beneath our house is twice the safe limit…I would like to have our house tested….I want to know the health risks- Realistically, I’d like to sue the owners who sold me this house last August without telling us about this!

  3. Hi Janice, Thanks so much. I just want to clarify that it’s not “a safe limit,” – it’s a limit that tells the state that they need to investigate more.

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