Firm Blamed for Deaths : Officials Plan Meeting on Toxic Dump Allegations

Times Staff Writer

Public officials who have monitored the cleanup of toxic chemicals dumped by a Santa Clarita Valley defense contractor will hold a public meeting to explain how authorities have tackled the problem.

The meeting comes in response to allegations by a Sand Canyon family, reported Sunday in a Santa Clarita newspaper, that the chemicals led to the cancer deaths of four family members.

Jo Anne Darcy, a field deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said the meeting probably will be held sometime next week.

Darcy, also a Santa Clarita City Council member, is chairman of a committee established by the supervisors in 1986 to oversee the removal of toxic chemicals found in soil and water underneath two plants operated by Space Ordnance Systems in Sand Canyon and Mint Canyon.

SOS is a subsidiary of Transechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks. The Sand Canyon site, which is south of the Antelope Valley Freeway, is part of Canyon Country. Mint Canyon is 15 miles to the east near Agua Dulce.

Task Force to Attend

Attending the meeting will be members of the monitoring committee and of a task force of county officials and representatives of homeowner groups created after the pollution was discovered.

In 1984, health and law-enforcement agencies raided SOS and uncovered widespread evidence of illegal dumping and illegal storage of solvents and chemicals. Two years later, company officials pleaded guilty to 10 misdemeanor counts of violating hazardous waste laws.

The cleanup has progressed well and is almost complete at the Sand Canyon site, Darcy said.

But in Sunday's Newhall Signal newspaper, members of a Sand Canyon family charged that SOS was responsible for four deaths in the family since 1983, when Christopher Hercules, 20, died of leukemia. His sister, Denise Hercules, 20, died of the disease three years later. Their father, Robert Hercules, 39, died of kidney cancer in February.

The final death came June 11, when the twin sister of Denise Hercules, Charlotte Hercules Aitken, 23, died of leukemia as well. The Hercules family lives within a half mile of the plant, according to the Signal. It is unclear how they might have been exposed to chemicals.

Relatives of the Herculeses could not be reached for comment Monday.

Lawsuit Pending

Burl Alison, vice president for TransTechnology, said the family has litigation pending against the company. She would not comment on the family's allegations directly but said state and county authorities have not found pollutants in supplies of drinking water.

"We just do not have any evidence at this time that anyone has been harmed by our activities at those two locations," Alison said.

Alison welcomed Darcy's move to hold a meeting. Darcy said officials with the state Health Services Department are reviewing old data to see if there is need for a study on the prevalence of cancer, leukemia and other diseases in Mint Canyon and Sand Canyon. She said officials were aware of the deaths in the Hercules family, but said the data collected, as a whole, have not warranted a health study.

Another resident who has filed a suit against TransTechnology Corp. said Monday she was pleased that a public meeting will be held.

Pat Allen of Mint Canyon said her grandson, Joseph Rose, lapsed into an unexplained coma shortly after the raid at SOS. Rose, now 5, has since recovered, but doctors tied his illness to chemical exposure, she said. To warn people of the potential hazards in the area, Allen has flown a black flag with a skull and crossbones in her front yard.

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