Soil Contamination Plagues Upgrade of Notorious L.A. Housing Project

Friday, December 27, 2013

When the Los Angeles City Council approved demolition of the notorious Jordan Downs Housing in Watts last August to make way for a $1 billion mixed-use, mixed-income development, most publicly expressed concerns were about financing and potential evictions.

Those haven’t gone away, but residents in yet another low-income neighborhood just a tad too close to a formerly active industrial property have concerns about toxic contamination at their doorstep, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Residents and environmental activists are not happy with the cleanup of a 21-acre lot near homes where a steel factory use to be. After the steel mill was torn down, it was replaced by a truck storage and repair shop. The soil is contaminated with lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals and it is feared the threat extends throughout Jordan Downs. A broader study of potential health threats is being sought.

The city’s plan is to tear down 700 decrepit two-story townhouses built in 1943 and 1954, and replace them with 1,800 more-upscale apartments and condos. Jordan Downs originally housed defense workers in temporary structures during World War II before being converted to a public housing project. Large low-income projects like Jordan Downs have gone out of fashion, but at one time it and three other nearby developments constituted the largest concentration of public housing west of the Mississippi.

The new residences would ring a new park, restaurants, retail space and a Family Resource Center. But before anything gets built, the city has to get rid of contamination that has been known to be a problem for years. In 2004, 1,250 tons of contaminated soil were hauled away from the nearby David Starr Jordan High School athletic field. An analysis of the vacant site commissioned by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) in 2011 found an “unacceptable health risk” from toxic materials, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).    

Tests taken of children last month found elevated, though technically acceptable, lead readings in all six. Skeptical residents and advocates note that the DTSC consultant recommended that the city use a standard for lead contamination that is four times the state standard.   

“I'm worried about babies rolling around in lead and arsenic,” Davd Pettit, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Times.    

The city has assured all concerned that it will use the state standard.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Soil Contamination a Hurdle for New Jordan Downs Housing Plan (by Tony Barboza and Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times)

Don't Rebuild Jordan Downs on Polluted Soil (by David Pettit, Natural Resources Defense League blog)

Jordan Downs Housing Project to Get “Urban Village” Makeover (by Diego Rentería, laist.)

Leave a comment