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Shell ordered to revise plan for cleaning Carson’s Carousel neighborhood

Shell Oil Co. was ordered this week to revise major portions of its plan to clean the soil in Carson’s highly contaminated Carousel tract neighborhood.

This is the first time the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has acknowledged the validity of arguments that Shell is shirking its responsibilities since the agency ordered Shell to clean the 50-acre property more than two years ago. The latest order comes just a few weeks after the Carson City Council declared a local environmental emergency at the housing development, which sits on land that housed an oil tank from the 1920s to 1960s. Large amounts of waste oil seeped into the ground beneath the tract.

“The Regional Water Quality Control Board blasted Shell,” said Bob Bowcock, a water resource manager who works with the law firm suing Shell. “It’s about time. We’re encouraged, but this is the kind of thing that could have happened two or three years ago. Why are we playing this game of chicken with the calendar?”

The contamination under Carousel tract was rediscovered about five years ago, and residents are embroiled in a lawsuit against Shell because of lost property values and claims of injuries ranging from headaches to cancerous tumors and death. Until Wednesday, the water board — which is the agency overseeing Shell’s cleanup — stood behind Shell’s testing analysis and preliminary work plans. But, in the new order, water board Chief Executive Officer Sam Unger critiqued Shell’s proposed cleanup plans and demanded that they submit detailed revisions by October 21.

Shell officials said on Thursday that they had not yet reviewed the new order and therefore could not comment.

“The regional board’s number-one concern is the safety of the Carousel residents,” said the water board’s executive director Sam Unger. “The board’s concern is that Shell’s proposed cleanup plan will not result in a comprehensive cleanup that permanently mitigates risks to the Carousel residents. Therefore we sent the plan back to Shell, requiring them to use more stringent measures.”

The order requires Shell to include the area under roads, sidewalks, homes and driveways in its cleanup plan. The oil company had previously only considered cleaning soil to a depth of 10 feet below areas of exposed ground. Water board officials said that, if the rest of the area isn’t cleaned, it could lead to greater contamination of soil vapor in the air above the ground, the report states.

Also, water board officials told Shell to follow stricter state and federal guidelines for cleaning the groundwater beneath the site to the level it was before the contamination took place. Chlorinated chemicals should also be addressed in the cleanup plan, the water board said. Shell did not include plans to clean those, instead focusing on the petroleum-related hydrocarbons. What’s more, Shell must explain why it plans to clean the soil based on an average amount of chemicals it believes to be in the soil, rather than the actual amount. Carson Mayor Jim Dear has called on Shell to pay residents the market value of their homes before the contamination was found so they can move.

Water board officials said there is still no immediate risk to the health of those living on the property, though Bowcock, residents, city officials and environmental analysts working with the law firm representing residents disagree.

“When you can dig up oil with a kitchen spoon in your backyard, people understand,” Bowcock said. “The health risks are understated here. Every day that ticks by, these people are impacted.”

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RELATED: Shell Oil cleanup plan for Carson’s Carousel neighborhood rejected by regulators

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