Carson city officials are seeking to declare a local emergency in an effort to pressure the state and an oil company to expedite the cleanup of a contaminated housing tract where residents have been advised not to eat vegetables or fruit from their yards and limit contact with the soil around their homes.
Testing in 2008 revealed that the soil and groundwater beneath many of the 285 homes in the Carousel tract, which sit atop a former Shell Oil tank farm, contain benzene and petroleum.
Cleanup is not expected to begin for at least another year.
“On a human level, five years is too long for residents to have to wait and still not know if anything is going to be done to protect their health and economic interests,” said Carson Mayor Jim Dear, who introduced a motion to draft the emergency declaration.
“To me, there’s no excuse for delaying any action.”
For years, the site has been at the center of investigations by state agencies and lawsuits from residents who blame the contamination for a host of illnesses, including cancer, skin rashes and tumors in their pets.
The city joined residents in their lawsuit against Shell last year, but with state environmental agencies taking the lead, Dear says, the city’s hands have been tied.
In 2010, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board told residents not to eat fruit or vegetables grown in their yards. And a letter from Shell urged homeowners to limit their contact with “exposed soils in your yard.”
Recently, an AT&T crew installing telephone lines reported finding oil oozing out of a hole just three feet deep.
The water quality board ordered Shell to clean the 44-acre site more than two years ago.
Since then, investigators hired by the company have conducted lengthy yard-to-yard testing to determine whether hydrocarbons in the soil are converting to harmful vapors. A handful of homes, part of a pilot program for cleanup, have had front yards dug up.
A comprehensive plan for cleaning the entire site still hasn’t been filed with the water quality board, and additional community input meetings and a separate environmental review for the plan could mean the actual cleanup may not begin until 2015.
“Based on results to date, regulatory agencies have indicated no immediate threat to the community,” said Shell Oil spokeswoman Kayla Macke in an emailed statement.
“We take the protection of the residents and the environment seriously and will continue to provide the necessary resources to remediate the neighborhood.”
Dear says he believes the oil company has used delay tactics and tried to limit the scope of the cleanup; he wants Shell to buy all of Carousel’s residents out of their homes before proceeding with the cleanup.
Barbara Post, president of the Carousel Homeowners Assn. and a resident for nearly 40 years, has rallied in Carson’s streets and spoken out at City Council and water board meetings for years.
“It’s been a long time coming for the city to join in with us, and we’re both on the same page now,” said Post, who at 80 is concerned she might not live to see the cleanup completed.
“I just hope it’s going to help us a lot,” she said. “It has to.”ALSO: