Echo Park Lake is getting cleaned up but toxic threats will remain

Signs have sprouted around the edges of Echo Park Lake informing visitors of an upcoming project to drain and clean up the lake’s waters, which are contaminated with everything from trash to traces of toxic compounds. One of the many challenges to keep those waters clean after the $64.7 project is completed are toxic solvents that have over the decades seeped into the ground underneath the Holloway Cleaners building at the corner of Echo Park Avenue and Sunset Boulevard.  It’s been more than 20 years since state environmental officials found evidence that toxic chemicals commonly used in the dry cleaning business – Perchloroethylene (PCE) and Trichloroethylene (TCE) – had contaminated  the soil and groundwater underneath the three-story building. A plan to monitor and deal with that contamination was put in place, and the dry cleaners, which has changed hands over the years, now abides by hazardous waste disposal practices, according to a city official. But the environmental damage had already been done.

In early 2009, more testing discovered that a block-long plume of PCE in the groundwater had slowly spread south from the dry cleaners to the northern edge of the lake, according to the 478-page environmental impact report on the lake rehabilitation project. The report warned:

“Concentrations of PCE, TCE, and 1,2-DCE levels above applicable [state water quality agency] thresholds were detected at the [lake] project site. As such, contaminated groundwater plumes migrating from Hollyway Cleaners toward Echo Park could potentially pose an ecological and hydrological threat.”

It’s still not clear if that PCE from the dry cleaners have actually seeped into the lake, said Michelle Vargas, a spokeswoman with the city’s Department of Public Works, which is overseeing the lake rehabilitation. But officials overseeing the lake rehabilitation are taking no chances.

The environmental report said that the building of temporary wall along the northern edge of the lake and the drilling of temporary wells would help prevent groundwater contaminated with PCE and TCE from spreading to the lake when its waters are drained during the construction.  A new clay liner along the bottom and walls of the lake will help to keep those chemicals out. In addition, the environmental report said the city must work with state water quality officials  “in order to ensure that the PCE plume migrating offsite does not pose an ecological and hydrological threat to Echo Park Lake.”


  1. I hope something is worked out for the sake of the fish, turtles and fowl, many of whom are stuck there and are not migratory. Rehabbing EP Lake may be a prolonged and painful process but it’s needed.

    My biggest beef has always been runoff direct into the lake. That should stop.

  2. Darrell,
    There used to be a Facebook page setup about a year and a half ago for the turtle rescue program. I think the authors thought the clean up was going to happen sooner, so they built the site in anticipation. And of course there is a Facebook page for Maria our proud goose. I imagine that now that Echo Park Lake is a reality, that some local groups will pop up to help find homes for some of the animals. Eastsider LA, perhaps that’s a good topic for a future article?

  3. This is very good news! I hope eventually the beautiful lotus flowers will be able to grow there again. Hundreds of people used to enjoy their blooms every Summer, then slowly they died off. I often thought it was some sort of pollution that killed them. That area used to be a highlight of ‘tours’ I would give to LA visitors. It’s nice to think that it will, again, be as beautiful as it once was!

  4. James of Echo Park

    I would like to give a warning to all of my fellow Echo Park community members about the Propostions O project at Echo Park Lake. I have worked on many projects where lakes are drainded and left to dry so that the trucks can work on taking out the sedement. This is very dangerous now that the water is going to be out of the lake, and all the contaminants are now going to be exposed to the air to dry so that there tractors and mahines can get traction to move around and remove the contaminated sediment. As soon as the sediment is dry it will become dust clouds with the expected high santa ana winds that we all know is a common weather pattern for los angeles that will contain the contaminats and will blow over and into our surounding community’s. this will cause huge health problem’s in our children and seniors and anyone with sensitive respiratory problems and asthmatic people. This will also impact the realstate market in Echo Park. I mean who is going to rent or buy or in a now hazardous area if this project should follow through? I ask that you make an effort to attend the future meetings on propostion O and voice your concerns and opposition to the project if they do not consider our surrounding communities future health that the lake has Cancer causing contaminants. My question is why would you even expose them in the first place and compromise my health and the community?

  5. @james: “I have worked on many projects where lakes are drainded and left to dry so that the trucks can work on taking out the sedement. This is very dangerous now that the water is going to be out of the lake”

    documented evidence, please.

  6. So far nothing has been done to curb or follow up on Hollyway Cleaners toxic chemical runoff problem:

    Business as usual for them, big joke for the animals that have to suffer with it.

  7. Does anyone know the exact date that the project will be starting? When will the fence go up and the park closed? I remember the EIR stating January 2011 but I’ve also heard April 2011. There must be a closing date, not just a month. Does anyone know?

  8. James of Echo Park

    RYAN! if you read the EIR and understand that in the report has stated that there are contaminted hot spots in the lake bottom. they also state that there were not sure if there were any more in the lake and would have to drian the water out of the lake to find out. because we know already that there are some hot spots, when the water is removed and the “hot spots” are exposed to the air to dry and become air born they will form huge toxic dust clouds when we have high winds or any type of wind driven forcast for our area. all you will have is a giant dry lake bed that will turn the enitre lake community and surrounding communities into a TOXIC DUST BOWL! For other studies that have been done check the Bishop County Dry River Lake Beds In Northern California!!! This is not the first time that a dry lake bed has produced toxic dust clouds, and one of the sad points about this is that long term affects will hurt the health of all the Angelinos now and future generations. read the medical reports of bishop county in northern county… do your research Ryan with the info I have provided here and above. if you have kids anyone reading this I strongly suggest the opposition of there concept!

  9. I noticed a chainlink fence going up this morning on the lake’s edge closest to echo park and bellevue but thought that the process wasn’t officially starting until April…anyone know what’s up?

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