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City of Carson to sue Shell Oil over contamination

The city of Carson has decided to sue Shell Oil more than two years after hundreds of residents brought a suit against the company, alleging health hazards from widespread contamination…

Carson to sue Shell Oil over contamination in Carousel tract

By Sandy Mazza Staff Writer
Posted:   02/18/2012 06:16:14 AM PST
Updated:   02/18/2012 03:10:17 PM PST

The city of Carson has decided to sue Shell Oil more than two years after hundreds of residents brought a suit against the company, alleging health hazards from widespread contamination in their Carousel tract neighborhood.

The City Council has authorized Girardi & Keese, the law firm for residents in the 285-home community, to represent the city in a new suit alleging that Shell created a public nuisance by leaving contaminants at the site.

The case has not yet been filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, but council members have expressed unanimous support for the legal action.

Girardi & Keese offered to litigate the case for the city for free on a pro-bono basis.

“I don’t have to be a chemist to know that (the tank farm remnants) emit toxic chemicals, gaseous chemicals, benzene, methane and other chemicals dangerous to human beings and other living things,” Mayor Jim Dear said.

An old oil tank farm just north of Lomita Boulevard, between Avalon Boulevard and Main Street, left untold amounts of hazardous chemicals in the 50-acre area. Residents brought a suit against Shell about two years ago, but it is moving slowly through the court as the oil company proceeds with a plan to remedy the problem.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has ordered Shell to clean the affected soil.

While state scientists have found little threat to human health from the underground chemicals, residents’ attorneys argue that people living there have suffered ailments including cancer, vertigo, arrhythmia and other problems because of the benzene, methane and other chemicals.

Gilbert Valdez, a Carousel tract resident, said he suffers high iron levels and believes it is because of the contamination.

“We have something that’s threatening our lives but we can’t see it, we can’t trap it,” Valdez said. “We can’t see our enemy. My family, their heads spin with vertigo and headaches.”

Council members told residents they want the lawsuit to come to a quick conclusion, although that appears unlikely.

“I wish I had a wand, I could reverse everybody’s illnesses,” Councilwoman Julie Ruiz-Raber said. “It’s very heartbreaking for me. Let’s hope that this won’t last another year.”

Shell is still trying to determine the level of contamination in the soil. Girardi & Keese attorneys have previously argued that Shell is stalling by requiring levels of testing at homes, but the two sides agreed in a Thursday court hearing to speed up the schedule for indoor air testing.

Shell also is about to undertake a pilot test plan at six to 10 homes to research different cleanup methods involving trucking out dirty soil and replacing or cleaning it.

Shell spokesman Alan Caldwell said the company will respond to the lawsuit from Carson once it is filed.

“Our position is that we’re moving forward with the cleanup and abatement order,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to move forward.”

Barbara Post, president of the Carousel Homeowners Association, said that she hopes the process will move more quickly, but she is glad some progress is being made.

“We had to work so hard to get the city on our side,” she said. “We have asked for it and worked to get it for so long. It’s a shame it took 2 1/2 years. At least it shows that the city is behind us for a change.

“Perhaps the judge will look at this and say, `OK, the city is stepping in.’ That will give us a little more credibility.”

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