Contaminated Soil Found at Simi Hospital : Environment: The facility's officials sue to force the property's previous owners to help pay up to $5 million in cleanup costs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Simi Valley Hospital officials said Thursday that they have found widespread fuel contamination in the soil at the facility's south campus and that the cleanup could cost $5 million.

Hospital officials said they have filed a lawsuit to force the property's previous owners to help pay for the cleanup.

The suit was filed Aug. 14 in Ventura County Superior Court, but hospital representatives did not serve the complaint to the defendants or discuss the case publicly until this week.

Hospital President Alan Rice said the diesel-fuel contamination poses no apparent health risks to patients, employees, nearby residents or wildlife. He said it has not tainted the underground water supply.

Rice said the nonprofit hospital's board members approved the suit because the soil cleanup may divert funds that were to be used for new equipment and building improvements for the 215-bed facility.

"They all look at this and see it as a major drain on the resources of our organization," the administrator said.

The cleanup is taking place at the hospital's south campus, 1850 E. Heywood St., which houses psychiatric and chemical dependency programs, home health services and an "Ask-A-Nurse" telephone information service.

The contamination was found during the summer of 1991 when the hospital removed a 10,000-gallon underground tank it had been using to store fuel for an emergency power system. Hospital officials said they believe that a leak in the tank's plumbing system caused some of the contamination.

In February, a consultant found extensive soil contamination elsewhere on the grounds, but the source of that fuel spill has not been determined, Rice said.

Cleanup, which is mandated by state and county environmental health laws, began shortly after the first discovery.

Rice said the hospital already has run up a cleanup bill of $3 million. The remaining work, which might take another six months to a year, could cost an additional $2 million, Rice said.

Hospital officials say their tests indicate that the pollution was present before they bought the site in January, 1987.

They say a now-inactive partnership called the Simi Valley Physicians and Surgeons Assn. bought the undeveloped land in 1966 and built what was then called Simi Valley Doctors' Hospital. The owners expanded the facility, then sold it in 1982 to Safecare, an affiliate of Safeco Inc., a Seattle-based insurance company.

The center was purchased in 1987 by Simi Valley Adventist Hospital, now called Simi Valley Hospital & Health Care Services.

Hospital representatives have told the City Council that they hope to eventually raze the south campus building, relocate the services and sell the land for a housing project.

John Zaimes, the hospital's attorney, said one or both of the previous owners should pay for cleaning up the tainted soil.

"We don't know when this contamination occurred, but it happened on someone else's watch before we got hold of the property, either when it was owned by Safecare or by the doctors' group," Zaimes said.

Colleen Broaddus, corporate attorney for Safecare, said Thursday that she had just received a copy of the lawsuit and was still reviewing it. She declined to comment on the allegations.

Zaimes said Safecare denied any responsibility for cleanup costs in a letter to the hospital earlier this year.

The former physician owners named in the suit were Albert Apkarian, Keith Baker, Raymond Bucci, Richard A. Hyatt, Caesar O. Julian, Frank Lind, Edvird Mahurin, Edward J. Santoro and Melvin Sisson.

The physicians either could not be located Thursday or did not return calls from The Times concerning the lawsuit.

Hospital officials said some of the physicians have retired or are practicing in other communities. Four--Julian, Hyatt, Baker and Mahurin--retain medical privileges at the hospital.

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