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Water board torture for Shell Oil Co

The Associated Press March 15, 2011, 10:10PM ET

Water board orders Shell to clean up neighborhood


A California water board has ordered Shell Oil Co. to clean up a Carson neighborhood built on top of an oil storage facility that could hold up to 140 million gallons of crude oil.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board required the company to come up with plans to clean up the site that the board will review. The soil contains dangerous levels of cancer-causing benzene, naphthalene and benzopyrene.

“The order requires Shell to clean the site to the most stringent standards for residential use in order to protect public health,” Samuel Unger, the board’s executive officer, said of the move Friday.

Shell Oil spokeswoman Alison Chassin said the company was still reviewing the board’s decision, but the developer who purchased the property from Shell in 1965 took on the responsibility of the cleanup at the time. That developer was Richard Barclay, who died in 1992.

“Shell has not made a determination on whether they’re going to appeal or not,” Chassin said. “We really are committed to the health and safety of the community.”

The oil company operated the storage facility from the 1920s to the 1960s, when it sold the property to Barclay, a principal of the development company Barclay-Hollander-Curci Inc. Eventually a neighborhood of 285 homes called the Carousel Tract was build atop the contaminated site.

It wasn’t until decades later in 2009 that residents in the tight-knit community found out they were living atop the old facility. The Department of Toxic Substances Control stumbled on the contamination while investigating another site.

“It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever had thrown at me,” said Barbara Post, president of the neighborhood association. “People were getting sick and stuff, but being we didn’t know that was down there, we didn’t have a clue.”

Post said she is pleased with the board’s decision but doesn’t believe Shell can properly do the cleanup under each home unless it purchases the entire neighborhood.

Thomas V. Girardi, attorney for the homeowners living in the Carousel neighborhood, said Shell had committed “despicable conduct.”

Girardi said the neighborhood was filled with young families who had purchased homes worth as much as $500,000 before the contamination was discovered. The toxic material began migrating to the surface and residents started to notice oil oozing out of their grout and elsewhere, he said.

“Our experts have said it would be massively difficult to clean up this mess,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been before they built on it because they could have dug down and gotten out all the contaminated soil.”


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