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Thousands of Tons of Lead Tainted Dirt Removed from Southwest High

Toxicity was not considered at levels harmful to human health, but removing the dirt is expected to cost the cash strapped district more than $500,000.

A 12,000-ton pile of contaminated dirt that last year was dumped beside the athletic fields at Southwest High School in Nestor came from a San Diego construction site and did not pose a health threat, the Sweetwater Union High School District announced Friday.

District spokeswoman Graciela Sevilla said the administration at Southwest High at the time had the dirt brought in from a public works project at 43rd Street and Logan Avenue, east of downtown San Diego.

They wanted to build a berm alongside of the football field and place a "Raiders" sign on it in an effort to increase school spirit, she said.

Instead, the dirt had to undergo multiple tests for contaminants and hauled off, which is expected to cost the district more than $500,000.

"Everybody that was involved with the project is no longer working with the district," Sevilla said. Since there was "no readily available paper trail" it took a while to find out how the dirt actually got to the school. 

The dirt tested positive for lead and pesticides, but district officials said Friday the levels were so low that there was no health risk.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the dirt be removed so it does not interrupt irrigation or drainage, said Chief of Facilities Executive Tom Calhoun.

"It's suitable for residential use, but the water board was concerned about runoff, pollution to streams and sediment, said Alfredo Rios, Supervising Hazardous Substances Scientist with the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The work to get rid of the dirt, which is being performed by the company Advanced Chemical Transport and going to a landfill in Azusa in Los Angeles County, is expected to be finished Monday, according to the district.

"The only thing I care about is that we'll play our first football game here Aug. 31, and the field's going to be beautiful," said Southwest principal Lee Romero.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Libi Uremovic August 18, 2012 at 01:23 PM
"...place a "Raiders" sign on it in an effort to increase school spirit,... the dirt ...is expected to cost the district more than $500,000...." at the graduation the kids stood in protest of their teachers being laid off and their money being wasted... ...so instead of paying for 1/2 dozen teachers or perhaps offering the kids a program that will benefit their future, the school district - in their wisdom - decides to put up a sign...
Jack Blackburn August 18, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Seems to me that it would have been a lot cheaper to place and underdrain and sample any water for contaminants.
Michael Pilgrim August 20, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Please don't mislead people by ommiting information. It will cost them $500,000 to remove the dirt... Don't get me wrong, I disagree with all of it, but facts shouldn't be manipulated. You of all people should be for that since you are going after the City of misrepresenting facts. "They wanted to build a berm alongside of the football field and place a "Raiders" sign on it in an effort to increase school spirit, she said. Instead, the dirt had to undergo multiple tests for contaminants and hauled off, which is expected to cost the district more than $500,000."

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