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Located in South Gate, California, the 3.8 acre Cooper Drum hazardous waste site is a drum reconditioning facility which has operated on the site from 1941 through the present. The handling, storage, and disposal practices of the cleaning agents and drum contents have resulted in contamination of soil and groundwater. Primary contaminants associated with the site include sodium hydroxide, hydrogen chloride, volatile organic compounds, and lead. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently reviewing information available on the site and an adjacent school site and is developing a workplan for a remedial investigation, feasibility study, and risk assessment to fully characterize the extent of contamination and to assess alternatives for clean-up.

Based on the information available for review, the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conclude that the Cooper Drum site poses an indeterminate public health hazard to nearby residents and workers. Exposure to site-related contaminants found in onsite and offsite surface soil, municipal drinking water wells, and onsite and offsite ambient air were completed exposure pathways in the past. The site-related ambient air exposures are potential pathways to workers now and in the future. Municipal well water was contaminated by perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene prior to 1986, when four wells were closed by the city of South Gate.

Currently available information does not allow for full determination of exposures to contaminants from the site, as well as other sources in the area, such as industrial facilities and vehicular emissions. Thus final conclusions of possible health effects can not presently be made. Findings from a past study indicate staff and students of the adjacent school experienced irritation of the eyes, upper respiratory tract, and throat, as well as irritating odors. Although these symptoms are commonly associated with some of the contaminants found in ambient air sampling of the adjacent school, information is insufficient for determining whether the contaminants released from the Cooper site or other sources in the area are responsible for the symptoms experienced.

Historically, people in the community have raised the following health concerns:

  1. Are health complaints reported by children and staff at Tweedy School related to the environmental contaminants found at Cooper Drum?

  2. What is the long-term effect of the chemical pollution on my child's health?

  3. Are residential reports of higher than normal cancer-related deaths true?

  4. Is there a connection between odors and illnesses experienced by the teachers and staff at Tweedy School?

The data and information developed in the Cooper Drum Facility Public Health Assessment have been evaluated for appropriate follow-up health actions. The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that people have been and may currently be exposed to contaminants from the site at levels that may cause illness. HARP determined that the appropriate regulatory authority be advised that worker education is indicated. HARP also determined that because important data needed to evaluate past exposure is lacking and because adverse health outcomes reported in the past are no longer being reported, no other follow-up health actions are indicated at this time. ATSDR will reevaluate this site for additional follow-up public health actions if new data become available that indicate a need to do so.

The current operator, Waymire Drum, has plans to conduct worker exposure monitoring to lead, paint spray, and acid and caustic mists in the near future. CDHS plans to contact Waymire Drum to provide referrals to appropriate agencies which can assist them with enhancing their worker health and safety program. These agencies will be able to further advise them on any worker protection requirements and how to educate the employees about the chemicals and physical hazards present at the site.

CDHS and ATSDR also plan to review new data as they become available and determine from the review what further actions are needed to protect public health.


Under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) has prepared this preliminary public health assessment to evaluate the public health significance of the Cooper Drum site. CDHS and ATSDR will determine whether health effects are possible and will recommend actions to reduce or prevent possible adverse health effects. ATSDR, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal agency with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) to conduct public health assessments at hazardous waste sites. Preliminary public health assessments are performed when limited data preclude a complete assessment of public health risk. A full public health assessment will be performed, if considered appropriate, when the environmental characterization is completed and provided to ATSDR for consideration. This preliminary public health assessment for the Cooper Drum site is based on a review of available environmental data, health data, community concerns, and information obtained from site visits and consultation with involved agencies and the public.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Cooper Drum site be listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in February 1992. This list informs the public of uncontrolled hazardous waste sites that warrant further investigation to determine if they pose risks to public health or the environment. Clean-up activities for sites included on the NPL can be paid for through funds established by CERCLA.

A. Site Description and History

EPA proposed the 3.8 acre site be listed on the National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites because of contamination resulting from drum reconditioning operations undertaken at the site. Handling and storage of drum processing and wastestream fluids appear to have resulted in contamination of soil and groundwater. Primary contaminants identified in the groundwater to date include volatile organic compounds such as perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), and methylene chloride (1).

The Cooper Drum site is located in an industrial area of the city of South Gate, Los Angeles County, California. Industrial facilities exist to the north and east, and mixed commercial and residential property is west of the site. On the Cooper Drum property are office, warehouse, maintenance and storage buildings, a hard drum wash area, and the main drum reconditioning area. Immediately south of the Cooper Drum property is a former elementary school, Tweedy Elementary School (1). Figure 1 in Appendix A shows some features of the site and surrounding area.

Historical records show that since 1941, various companies operated a drum reconditioning facility on the northern part of the current Cooper Drum property. In 1971, the Cooper family purchased the property to recondition 55 gallon closed topped steel drums used to hold a variety of industrial chemicals. An industrial pipe supply warehouse facility occupied the southern part of the present property until 1973 when the property changed hands and eventually was purchased by the Cooper family in 1975. In 1976, the Cooper Drum Company expanded its drum reconditioning operations to the southern part of the property (2). In 1980, EPA listed Cooper Drum Company under RCRA(1) as a hazardous waste generator. In June 1992, Cooper Drum Company sold the drum reconditioning business to Waymire Drum Company, Inc., and retained ownership of the property. Waymire Drum Company continues to operate a drum reconditioning facility on the property and is currently upgrading the facility.

During its operation of the business, Cooper Drum processed about 1,200 to 1,400 drums per day between their usual operating hours of 3:00 PM to 5:00 AM (1). Trucks delivered drums through the east gate entrance on Rayo Avenue (see Figure 1). Drums were stacked on their sides directly on asphalt in the northeastern part of the yard area to await processing. Drums received by Cooper Drum had to contain less than 1" of the original contents. All drums went through the main drum processing/reconditioning assembly line located along the southern end of the yard. Drums were processed in batches of 240 drums per batch. (See Figure 1.)

The drum reconditioning process mainly consisted of flushing the inside and outside of the drums with hot caustic (sodium hydroxide) wash fluids, flushing the inside with hydrochloric acid to remove rust, rinsing, leak testing, shaping, and painting (survey book). The main drum processing area is elevated on a platform 5' above the ground. Prior to 1987, Cooper Drum used concrete trenches located in the floor of the main processing area to collect process fluids containing waste products and sodium hydroxide. The waste process fluids went to a series of below grade unlined concrete holding tanks and clarifiers (settling tanks) located on the north side of the drum processing line. The two tanks and six clarifiers were used to settle out oily wastes, sludge, and debris from the wash fluids. The caustic wash liquids were then pumped back to the processing line for reuse. Solid materials were solidified in drums, picked up by a registered hauler and transported to a hazardous waste disposal facility. Oily wastes were taken to a recycler (1,2).

If drums contained solids or highly viscous materials, they were first sent to the "hard wash area" located in the northeastern corner of the property for draining and initial flushing with hot sodium hydroxide prior to being sent to the main drum processing/reconditioning line. Additionally, chains were placed, if necessary, inside the drums, and the drums placed in an assembly line and then rotated to loosen materials inside the drums. Similar to the main drum processing area, waste fluids and solid materials from drums treated in the hard wash area were collected in concrete floor trenches and transported to two below grade concrete sludge pits and two sludge tanks, covered with grating at the ground surface. After settling of solids and sludge and skimming of oily wastes, fluids were reused in the hard wash area.

Since 1987, Cooper Drum discontinued the use of floor trenches and installed hard piping to transport processing fluids to the tanks and clarifiers. Additionally in 1989, Cooper Drum retrofitted all tanks and clarifiers to allow for double containment. In the main drum reconditioning area, the below grade concrete tanks and sumps previously used to hold waste process fluids were replaced with above-ground steel lined tanks. These new tanks were placed over the old sumps and tanks. In the hard wash area, below grade sludge pits and tanks were lined and continued to be used until recently (3).

Site investigations started in the fall of 1984 when the Los Angeles County Health Department (LACHD) found degraded asphalt and observed spillage of materials from stored drums. LACHD issued a Notice of Violation and required Cooper to correct the deficiencies and to submit and carry out a soil sampling plan. Cooper Drum's consultant, Conservtech, collected fourteen soil samples at 6-24 inch depths from the hard wash area and other parts of the yard and processing areas. Results showed areas of soil contaminated with perchloroethylene (PCE), polychlorinated biphenyls, and metals. Between 1985 and 1986, LACHD directed Cooper Drum to remove about 180 tons of contaminated soil and asphalt. The area was backfilled and repaved; no documents are currently available to verify the soil was free of contamination prior to backfilling (4).

In August 1984, Los Angeles County Health Department and Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board did a joint site inspection which resulted in a list of recommendations to improve worker protection from air contaminants. Deficiencies cited included the following items: lack of respiratory protection at paint booth, hazardous waste drums allowed to drain onto the surface of the property, lack of hearing protection or hearing conservation program, and lunches improperly stored in the cleaning/stripper area (5).

Records dating back to 1984 also indicate a series of events related to the former Tweedy School located directly south of Cooper Drum. LACHD received odor and dust complaints from school staff. In 1985, after a joint investigation with LACHD and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Cooper Drum installed a scrubber to reduce emissions from their paint spray booth and caustic exhaust air stack (6). In February 1986, a chlorine pipeline leak at a neighboring facility, Purex Corporation, resulted in the hospitalization of 41 students and staff from the school and the evacuation of the school. In December 1986, LACHD responded to complaints from school officials regarding soil contamination on Tweedy School property. The soil sample taken by LACHD showed 90,000 parts per million petroleum hydrocarbons (2). According to the county, Cooper removed the upper layer of soil and replaced it with clean backfill and asphalt (1).

In April 1987, school staff notified LACHD of smelly liquid migrating from Cooper Drum property into a planter area on the school yard north of the school's food preparation building. LACHD issued a Notice of Violation to Cooper Drum and ordered Cooper Drum to stop and clean up the discharge, conduct a site assessment, and take measures to prevent future discharges. The liquid had originated from the caustic wash area of the drum reconditioning process located in the building directly north of the school property. LACHD determined the liquid to consist primarily of sodium hydroxide and oil(2).

Under LACHD's direction, the contaminated soil on school property was removed and transported to a disposal facility. The excavation exposed the foundation wall of the Cooper Drum facility and revealed caustic fluid seeping through cracks in the wall. Conservtech, Cooper's consultant, arranged for four horizontal borings to be made through the foundation wall to determine whether contamination existed beneath the concrete foundation. The soil beneath the foundation was saturated with caustic fluid which had a measured pH 14.(2) Absorbent materials were temporarily placed in the excavation trench to prevent fluids from moving onto school property and a chain link fence was erected to restrict direct access to the trenched area.

LACHD determined that the seepage of the caustic fluids into subsurface soil most likely occurred because of hollow pipe openings and cracks in the concrete floors of the main drum reconditioning process area and cracks in the concrete trenches used to circulate waste and process fluids to tanks and clarifiers. LACHD required Cooper Drum to install and use hard piping in the drum reconditioning process area rather than use the concrete trenches for transport of waste and process fluids, plug open pipes located in the floor of the process area, and seal the cracks in the concrete. Cooper Drum completed these changes shortly after the April 1987 incident (2). Cooper Drum also initiated steps to secure permits with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works for the 14 in-ground open topped tanks located on the facility. As part of the permitting process, soil sampling and testing in tank areas had to be conducted (1988 sampling plan). Although soil contamination is present in the drum reconditioning process areas, no major removal efforts have occurred to date (1).

In June 1987, Conservtech carried out additional characterization and soil sampling activities in a planter area on school property along Cooper's south wall, near the school's food preparation area. At a depth of 14 feet, PCE contamination at 20 parts per million (ppm) was found near the grade wall. Conservtech identified soil contamination to depths of 20 feet extending about 175 feet along the property line between Cooper Drum and the school. No further soil removal was undertaken and LACHD determined that the affected area on Tweedy school property should be paved as a temporary control measure; paving took place in July 1987 (1).

On December 9, 1987, the Office of Emergency Services for the City of South Gate informed the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)(3) about the recent closure of four municipal wells due to PCE contamination above the state action level for drinking water. The wells are located about 1,000-2,000 feet downgradient of Cooper Drum. The City of South Gate indicated Cooper Drum could have contributed to the groundwater contamination.

In 1988, EPA initiated activities to gather data for use in preparing a CERCLA Hazard Ranking System scoring package for use in determining whether or not the Cooper Drum site should be listed on the National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites. In February 1992, EPA proposed the site be listed. EPA serves as the lead agency and is currently overseeing further site investigations.

B. Site Visit

On September 29, 1992, Diana Lee and Jane Riggan from CDHS accompanied the EPA project managers on a site visit. Representatives for the Cooper family and a staff member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department were also present. Employees from Waymire Drum Company, who started operating on the premises in June 1992, took us on a tour of the present facilities. The following observations were made:

  • A lot of activity occurs within the main yard. Gates, which are open during business hours, secure the entrance on Rayo Street. Trucks enter through the gate to load and unload drums. Drums received and waiting for processing and reconditioning are stacked on their side and separated by originating company.

  • Fabrication and assembly of about 250-500 new 55 gallon drums occurs in the warehouse area located off Rayo Street (see Figure 1). The warehouse is roofed and has aluminum siding for walls. We noted loud noises and observed some workers wearing hard hats and gloves, but no other protective clothing or equipment.

  • The hard drum wash area has a roof but no walls. We observed drums being drained and rinsed with caustic solution and hot water, as well as drums going through the chain process. Depending on how close we got to the operations, we noticed strong caustic odors. Noise levels from the hard wash and chain operations were very high. Except for gloves, workers did not use protective clothing or equipment. The below grade floor sumps, tanks, and pits were covered with grating at ground level and did not appear to be in use.

  • The main drum processing area has a roof and three walls; the north side is open and faces the main yard. The main processing area is on a raised platform about 5' above ground. Individual drums are flushed, rinsed, leak tested, shaped, and painted in an assembly line fashion. A series of holding tanks and clarifiers are set at ground level on the north side of the processing area. Fluids are piped off the operations platform to the tanks. We noticed many odors and loud noises. Workers in the main drum processing area did not appear to use protective clothing or equipment other than gloves.

  • Access to the former Tweedy school property is usually restricted by a locked gate and posted with no trespassing signs. On the day of our first visit, a school district maintenance person was present and we were able to enter the school yard and view the area where the 1987 spill occurred. The school buildings are currently not occupied. The entire school yard is paved.

  • We also drove around the South Gate Recreation Park area and saw the location of the new Tweedy School on the corner of Pinehurst and Southern Streets, two blocks away from the original site. The park area contained several large community buildings, such as a sports center and public auditoriums. Residential housing surrounds the park. We also observed a number of other industrial facilities in the immediate area.

On October 27, 1992, Simone Brumis and Diana Lee returned for another site visit, and Waymire Drum Company staff provided a tour of the facilities. We observed the following changes from the first visit:

  • construction of a 2-foot raised concrete berm surrounding the drum drainage and caustic wash line in the hard wash area to prevent surface water runoff and migration

  • floor trenches in the hard wash area had been filled in with concrete and concrete slabs placed over grated pits in the hard wash area

  • workers were wearing hard hats and gloves. Some workers were wearing dust masks, but not fitted respirators, in the drum buffing area. The spray painter working closest to the paint spray booth was wearing a fitted respirator while spray painting drums. Most workers were observed wearing ear plugs in the main process area. However, in the hard wash area and the new drum fabricating area, several workers were observed without hearing protection. A noise survey and hearing conservation program is required by OSHA regulations for all workers in high noise areas. Waymire staff informed us they were in the process of implementing worker health and safety procedures.

On December 3, 1992, Simone Brumis and Jane Riggan from CDHS took a tour of the abandoned Tweedy School site, accompanied by a representative of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Environmental Health and Safety Branch. The following observations were made:

  • The row of mature deciduous trees along the north central border of Tweedy (along the wall of the Cooper main process area) shows significant stunting in contrast to the several trees of the same species to the east and west of the main process area. This stunting was also seen in archival photographs from 1984.

  • The three emission stacks from the Cooper main process area emit large white plumes, visible from the Tweedy playground, which changed direction several times during a 30-minute observation period.

  • Large liquid stains were observed on the Tweedy side of the Cooper main process wall at approximately three feet above the ground. These stains were also seen in archival photographs from 1986. A six-foot, open-wire fence is now in place along this wall.

Appendix D, a letter from the current owners of the site, describe changes that have been made at the site to improve worker safety conditions. Conditions of surrounding areas remain about the same as described.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use and Features


Approximately 86,000 persons live in South Gate, California. Most of the lower-income residential areas are south and east of the site. According to the 1990 Census, 35,972 people live in 9,895 housing units in the area roughly one and a half miles west and south of the site. Thirty-four percent (34%) of this population falls within the age range of 18 years or older. The form in which 1990 census data is currently available to CDHS does not give more age specific information or further breakdown of housing units. The racial/ethnic makeup is as follows: 15% white; 1% black; 82% Hispanic origin; 0.3% American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut; 1.3% Asian/Pacific Islander.

The enrollment at Tweedy School when it was located on Southern Avenue was 582 people with 87% of the students of Hispanic origin. The school is now located two blocks south of the old site, and the current enrollment is 743 with 93% of the students of Hispanic origin.

A residential community is located directly across Atlantic avenue west of the site. (See Figure 1.)

Land Use

The site is located in a mixed commercial, residential, and industrial area of South Gate. A number of industrial facilities exist to the north and east with mixed commercial and residential property to the west. Some of these facilities include metal manufacturing, fabricating, and chemical processing. The former Tweedy School is south of the site. The school was closed in July 1988 and relocated to portable buildings about two blocks away in South Gate City Park area. The school buildings were used as administrative offices for 58 school officials from 1989 to 1992 (7). Bryson School is another elementary school in the area. It is located on the corner of Bryson and Missouri Avenues about a half mile south of the temporary location of Tweedy School.

South Gate Recreational Park is a 93 acre park owned by the city. It is a flat grassy area with old trees and includes a sports center with a swimming pool, an auditorium, a rose garden, a small golfing area, a clubhouse for girls, and several structured play areas for children, and a fire station.

Natural Resource Use and Features

The Site and surrounding Los Angeles area has a Mediterranean type climate with mainly warm, dry weather. Average annual rainfall is 12 to 16 inches, with a winter rain season. Lower rainfall than normal has been reported for the area and state in the last three to five years, which has resulted in drought conditions; however, the 1992-93 rainfall level was above average. Prevailing winds are from the west, with lighter prevailing night and early morning winds from the east and northeast. Summer and early fall winds are predominantly from the west and southwest, while winter and spring winds have a larger northern component, which affects areas south of the site, such as the former Tweedy Elementary School (8).

The Los Angeles (LA) River, half a mile east of the site, runs north to south. Surface runoff from the site is collected in rain clarifiers on the east and west end of property to remove oil or grease, and is discharged to storm drains which empty into the LA River. The rain clarifiers are tested quarterly and permitted by LARWQCB with a National Pollution Discharge Elimination Permit (1). Water from the LA River recharges groundwater about three miles downstream from the site. The LA River is not used for domestic or irrigation purposes. No other surface water bodies exist within three miles of the site (2).

There are 14 municipal drinking water wells in a 2.8 mile radius of site, of which seven have been closed because of PCE contamination. Figure 2 shows the location of these wells. All 14 wells are owned by the city of South Gate. All of the municipal wells maintained by the City of South Gate are interconnected, and the City also blends its well water with water received from Metropolitan Water District. No individual household water supply wells or industrial wells exist in the area. The nearest municipal water well is located 900 feet southeast of site (2). The four closest downgradient wells, #13, #14, #18, and #19, located 1,000 to 2,000 feet southwest of Cooper, were closed in December 1986 because of PCE contamination. In February 1991, wells #7 (upgradient), #8 (downgradient), and #22B (cross gradient) were also closed because of PCE contamination. Drinking water supplied to the area consists of a blend of mainly groundwater (95%) and a small amount of surface water (5%). Surface water originates from the Colorado River in Arizona and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern California. Groundwater comes from the deep, underlying aquifer (water bearing unit) named Silverado, located 550 to 600 feet below ground surface (bgs) (9).

The site lies in the Central Groundwater Basin. The regional groundwater gradient is south-southwesterly. Located within the Central Basin, water bearing zones in the vicinity of the site appear to consist mainly of alternating discontinuous layers of gravels, sands, silts, and clays. The sand and gravel form the major water bearing units (aquifers), and the silt and clay act as confining layers (aquitards) to restrict movement between aquifers. The Bellflower aquitard lies above the aquifers directly beneath the site and is estimated to be 70-80 feet thick (10). The Bellflower is known to have areas composed of more permeable layers of sand or silty clay; thus, the potential exists for contaminants to migrate through the Bellflower to underlying aquifers (2).

Five aquifers lie below the Bellflower aquitard and above the Silverado in the area surrounding the site. Historical data from the original drilling of the South Gate municipal wells shows that the first (Exposition at 80 feet bgs) and second (Gage at 200 feet bgs) aquifer are interconnected, and the fifth (Lynwood at 450 feet bgs) aquifer is interconnected to the Silverado. The EPA Listing Site Investigation concluded that there was abundant evidence to suggest that the Silverado is in hydraulic interconnection with the shallow aquifers that underlie the site at around 80 feet bgs (11).

D. Health Outcome Data

Sources of existing health related data in California that may be useful in evaluating hazards from environmental exposure include the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, the California Cancer Surveillance Program, and vital statistics records. The California Birth Defects Monitoring Program first began collecting data for Los Angeles County in 1990 (ref 16-DelAmo). Established in 1970, the Cancer Surveillance Program for Los Angeles County (Region 9 of the California Tumor Registry) serves as the population-based cancer registry for Los Angeles County where the Cooper site exists (12). Vital statistics data which we were able to retrieve for the site area were not sufficiently separated by age, race, or socioeconomic status to make useful comparisons with either birth defects statistics or cancer statistics.

In response to concern voiced by Tweedy School staff members and parents of students after a release of chlorine gas from the nearby Purex plant on February 21, 1986, LACHD Toxics Epidemiology Program (TEP) investigated related health complaints in the following six separate studies: 1) a comparison of absentee patterns at Tweedy School with a nearby control school; 2) a brief questionnaire survey of staff health status; 3) a community survey in a nearby neighborhood alleged to have an unusual occurrence of cancer; 4) a review of air monitoring by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) with regard to measured air concentrations and the potential for health effects (13) 5) a review of blood and urine samples of Tweedy students taken by an independent physician; and 6) a review of Tweedy student physical exams, symptom surveys, and pulmonary function tests (14). The findings from these studies will be discussed further in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section.

In September 1992, five spray painting and drum buffing employees of Waymire Drum Company, the current drum reconditioning operation on the site, were monitored for lead levels in their blood (15). Results of these tests are discussed in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section.


Odor and dust complaints from the staff of Tweedy School located just south of Cooper Drum date back to 1984. The first of these documented complaints was from the principal of Tweedy School who called the LACHD reporting dust and odors allegedly emanating from Cooper Drum (6). A chlorine pipeline leak at the nearby Purex facility in February 1986 resulted in the evacuation of the school and the hospitalization of 41 students and staff from the school. After this incident, the staff and students at Tweedy voiced more health concerns and reported physical complaints.

In addition to odor and dust complaints, there was also concern about soil contamination. A December 1986 complaint from the LAUSD noted that there was discolored soil on Tweedy property adjacent to Cooper Drum (6). In April 1987, school staff identified a smelly liquid coming from Cooper Drum into the planters near the student lunch area. The liquid was identified as a caustic used to clean the drums in the wash area. The excavation of contaminated soil revealed that the caustic fluid was also leaking through cracks in the foundation wall of Cooper Drum.

In 1986, there were a series of public meetings to address the problems experienced at Tweedy School. The first of these meetings was initiated by Assemblywoman Maxine Waters in early April. She said that state officials had been wrong in assuming that the chlorine gas leak had been an isolated event. Parents complained that since their children had attended Tweedy School, they had developed allergies and other respiratory complaints requiring ongoing medical care (16). At the same meeting, school workers complained of migraine-like headaches, which developed when they were out in the school yard (16). One parent noted that 18 cancer cases had been identified within the community (17).

At subsequent meetings, school staff and parents of students identified other health complaints including asthma, nausea, dizziness, eye and throat irritation, and loss of concentration (18). In an August 1986 internal memo, the principal of Tweedy documented that there had been 5-10 reports of children throwing up during the breakfast and lunch period and that there was an increase in the reports of nosebleeds and stomach aches (19).

As a result of health complaints by school staff, students, and parents, LACHD decided to undertake several health surveys " ascertain the health impact of the chlorine spill and other toxic material exposure on Tweedy School students, staff, and teachers" (20). In agreeing to begin the surveys, a LACHD official warned that "it might prove difficult to find a direct link between chemicals being used at nearby factories and health complaints..." (21).

LACHD undertook six separate investigations to determine the health impacts of hazardous emissions at Tweedy School. They included: 1) a study of student absentee patterns at Tweedy compared with a control school; 2) a health status survey of Tweedy School staff; 3) a cancer cluster investigation in the community around Tweedy School; 4) review of SCAQMD air monitoring results as related to adverse health effects; 5) a review of blood and urine specimens collected by an independent physician; 6) a review of results from physical exams, symptom surveys and pulmonary function tests for Tweedy school students. The overall conclusion from the investigations was that no major health-related effects had occurred and that symptoms were "short-term and reversible" in nature (14). However, LACHD noted that "The proximity of a population of children (and staff) to such industrial processes is clearly incompatible..." (14). He referred to an earlier letter where it had been suggested that the Board seriously consider relocating the school.

In December 1986, the Board received increased pressure from irate parents to close the school. At that time the principal of Tweedy was granted a medical transfer. The parents picketed the school for three days claiming that if the school was unhealthy for the principal, it was unhealthy for the students and should be moved (22). As an interim measure, Cooper Drum agreed to do its industrial operations in the evening rather than the peak school hours. Finally, in 1988 Tweedy School was moved to temporary bungalows at nearby South Gate Park. However, the administrative building farthest from Cooper Drum, was used by LAUSD administrative staff for another three years until the school was totally shut down in June 1992.

In recent discussions between CDHS staff and staff from regulatory agencies, county health officials, school district officials, City of South Gate officials, and the principal of Tweedy School, the general consensus was that health concerns lessened once Tweedy School moved to temporary quarters in 1988. The current principal at Tweedy has not received any complaints from staff or parents regarding health impact of the current location of the school. In fact, according to a February 7, 1991, newspaper article, the concern of parents had shifted to whether Tweedy would still be located in South Gate or moved to another city (23). In addition, the principal noted that the absentee rates at Tweedy were comparable to other elementary schools in the area.

Although staff and parents from Tweedy School do not appear to have any health concerns about the site, historically the following concerns have been raised:

  1. Are health complaints reported by children and staff at Tweedy School related to the environmental contaminants found at Cooper Drum?

  2. What is the long-term effect of the chemical pollution on my child's health?

  3. Are residential reports of higher than normal cancer-related deaths true?

  4. Is there a connection between odors and illnesses experienced by the teachers and staff at Tweedy School?

1. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976; federal legislation which called for "cradle to grave" regulation of all wastes. It required development of criteria to identify hazardous waste and standards for those generating, transporting, or disposing of such wastes.
2. A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a material. pH values include: 1 to 3 for a strong acid, 6 for a weak acid, 7 for water, 8 for a weak base, and 12 to 14 for a strong base (very caustic).
3. Prior to 1990, DTSC was a division within the California Department of Health Services, called CDHS/Toxic Substances Control Division.

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