El Cajon residents pack meeting on toxic plume
Homeowners from the Starlight Mobile Home Park and Greenfield Mobile Home Estates in El Cajon learn that vapors of industrial trichloroethylene may have seeped from groundwater into their homes. Nov. 16, 2016. Megan Wood/inewsource

El Cajon residents pack meeting on toxic plume

State officials were just minutes into their presentation about an underground chemical plume in El Cajon when homeowners began raising questions: “Have you tested it?” a voice came from the back. “How are we going to sell our homes?” asked another.

Residents want to know if exposure to the chemicals has endangered them.

Residents of the Starlight and Greenfield Mobile Homes Estates together with other neighbors – some 60 in all – nearly filled a Magnolia Elementary School auditorium Wednesday evening.

Sean McClain, a state engineering geologist, told the crowd that in the 26 years the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board has been addressing the contamination, it has never believed it posed a threat to the mobile home owners who live adjacent to the school. That is because the plume runs deeper under the homes than it does under the school, and what is measured in the school classrooms is considered acceptable.

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“We know contaminants in that ground water are volatilizing off the water into the soil column, and in some cases are entering the school buildings,” said Patrick Kerzic, a toxicologist with the Department of Toxic Substances Control. “Our risk evaluations consistently show that we feel the school is safe for use and safe for occupancy.”

Yet when the state recently sunk wells as close as it could get to the mobile homes without actually entering the properties, 10 of their 25 wells failed the screening test, McClain said, meaning there was more than enough trichloroethylene in the soil to trigger investigation.

That’s what led the officials to offer indoor air testing to 19 owners in the mobile home parks. It’s the first time some of the resident have learned about the contamination, even though numerous monitoring and extraction wells are operating just feet from their homes at the school.

Trichloroethylene is considered the most serious and concentrated of several industrial solvents that for years were flushed into a shallow hole in the ground at a nearby aerospace manufacturing firm.

Noemi Harris, a mother of three, said she was concerned that she was not offered testing, though she lives in one of the parks.

“Can we volunteer to have our homes tested?” asked Joel Menezes, who found himself in the same position. The answer seems to be – not yet.

Not everyone agrees the vapors in the classrooms have been safe. Some people who attended Magnolia Elementary School dating back to the 1960s, as well as teachers who taught there, are suing over alleged exposure. They hope to win ongoing health monitoring.


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About Ingrid Lobet:

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