High School Dirt Removal in Final Phase

The dirt has sat on the track and field area of Southwest High School for more than a year

By Gitzel Puente
|  Friday, Aug 17, 2012  |  Updated 8:22 PM PDT
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High School Dirt Removal in Final Phase

Gitzel Puente

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The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) is paying $500,000 to remove a 12,000-ton pile of dirt from a high school field that they originally received for free.

Last year, the former school administration at Southwest High School responded to an ad for free dirt and hired a company to dump it on its field.

"There was a thought to do a beautification project here, but that did not go well," said SUHSD's Director of Communications Graciela Sevilla.

She explained that the previous administration's intent was to build a berm with some kind of positive message that would show school pride.

The problem, Sevilla said, was that the dirt covered part of the track that the students used as well as some of the drains, and it would sometimes flood if it rained.

And that wasn’t all.

The dirt contained some levels of lead and other toxins, which worried some parents.

"It had contaminants in it for a year, maybe not to the levels of human harm, but it has contaminants in it. It's totally irresponsible," expressed concerned SUHSD member Stewart Payne.

To ease the concerns of parents, some district and Southwest High School officials held a press conference where they addressed the low-toxicity levels of the dirt.

"The Sweetwater District has actually done three rounds of soils testing, and all of those have shown that there's just a very trace level of toxins, but not in a point that it will result in a risk to students, staff and the neighbors," said Sevilla.

She stressed the contaminants have low percentages and are not harmful.

All this could have been avoided if the dirt had not been dumped in the first place, according to Payne.

"It served no purpose," he said and added that the district was late in addressing the issue.

In the district's defense, Sevilla said they were trying to piece the story together over the past year because they had no proper documentation of who responded to the ad and moved forward with the project.

In the end, the Advanced Chemical Transport team says it will scrape the remaining dirt from the area on Monday and take it to a landfill in Azusa, Calif.

The dirt track is expected to be fully restored on Aug. 31, just in time for the high school’s first football game of the season.

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