State Agency at Center of Spacebank Mini Storage Toxic Site Storm Opens Pasadena Lab to School Kids

Published : Friday, April 26, 2019 | 4:47 AM

The state’s regulatory agency that is at the heart of a heated debate regarding a local mixed-use development at the site of a former U.S. Naval weapons testing facility is opening the doors of its Pasadena lab to show local students what it does, and how it does it.

The State of California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has invited 10- to 13-year olds to spend a day of learning in their laboratory through hands-on experiments on May 4 at 9 a.m.

The DTSC is the lead State agency responsible for deciding if the Space Bank Mini Storage site at 3200 East Foothill Boulevard can be made safe enough to build a proposed 550-unit, housing, and commercial space development. The soil at the site is polluted with hazardous chemicals and further cleanup may be required prior to development of the mixed-use complex. The public comment period was recently extended and ends April 30, 2019.

A department spokesperson said it is not the relatively new Pasadena lab that is responsible for making decisions about the proposed development’s site.

“Specifically what we do is analytical testing on environmental samples for toxic chemicals,” said Mui Koltunov, Pasadena lab supervisor. “So for example, we analyze soil, water, sludge. And now we’re doing a lot of products, such as jewelry. The Department [of Toxic Substances Control] will submit samples to us and we analyze it for constituents such as metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and also other organic compounds. “

But in the meantime, the DTSC wants to educate the public on what exactly it does by presenting a day of hands-on activities for kids, designed to educate them on government-based career opportunities in science.

“We wanted to engage students who care about science and particularly in a public environment,” said Mui Koltunov, Pasadena lab supervisor.

Koltunov said that students realize a lot of science goes on in private industry at pharmaceutical and technology companies but often don’t realize that “there are scientists working for the government, for the state of California, the city, or at the federal level.

“The work we do is very important,” Koltunov said. “What they learn in school is very applicable to what we do and the mission and value of our work is so important to the people of California and the environment.”

The work is based on research Koltunov said.

“What our department does is there may be a particular site where we need to do characterization of the site,” Koltunov said. “So we do a background study and then they try to characterize what the site had been used for. From there they can deduce if this used to be, for example, a metal recycler, where they dismantle automobiles and things like that. Then presumably then they have a lot of metals, toxic metals, that may be contaminated with oil. That’s how we get information on what we need to test for.”

“That includes testing soil, locating possibly toxic buildings and structures and even testing jewelry for hazardous metals. This year, there is a focus this year on household products,” said Scott Giatpaiboon, an environmental scientist with the department.

The department takes a proactive approach in its work, oftentimes going out to retailers, buying children’s jewelry and doing the testing. Sometimes the testing comes as a result of a complaint called into the Department’s hotline.

The testing is done in situations where there is concern that a product or a property is tainted and is not in keeping with the department’s manifest.

“For example, things that you might find are toxic levels of lead in soil, heavy metals like lead, cadmium or arsenic,” Koltunov said. “Even in jewelry — we’re looking at right now at children’s jewelry. We have seen a really high percentage of 50 to even 100 percent of children’s jewelry has lead or cadmium.”

In 2012 it became law in California, that any children’s jewelry that is manufactured, sold or offered for sale and transported within the state shall not have more than 0.03 percent cadmium by weight, according to information supplied by the DTSC. Cadmium is a heavy metal and a suspected carcinogen and children are particularly susceptible. The law applies to small and big manufacturers, retailers and suppliers.

For information on cadmium or lead in jewelry go here.

The Pasadena lab supports the work done in the Berkeley office of the DTSC.

The children who participate in the May 4 event will be able to understand a day in the life of a government scientist, which includes research, field analysis, preparing documents and use of special testing equipment.

Koltunov said there will be five stations for the students that mimick what the scientists actually do during their day, including testing, observing, researching and recording.

For registration go here