James Stringfellow; Ran Troubled Waste Dump

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

James B. Stringfellow, owner of a toxic waste dump that inspired a morass of litigation and cost him a fortune and his reputation, has died. He was 66.

Stringfellow, who had moved out of the Riverside area to avoid notoriety surrounding his involvement with the dump, died Sunday at the FHP Skilled Nursing Facility in Westminster. The cause of death was not immediately known.

The continuing cleanup, controversy and court battles over the hazardous-waste dump that Stringfellow founded ultimately cost him far more than the estimated $1.5 million he made from it. In just one 1991 case, he agreed to pay a group of Glen Avon residents $8 million.

Environmental activist Penny Newman, one of the 3,800 plaintiffs in that case, told The Times at the time of the settlement that Stringfellow was "kind of one of the victims--but not an unwilling victim."

On Monday, she added, "The sad saga of Stringfellow is a lot of innocent people who didn't know any better were sucked into this fiasco."

In 1955, Stringfellow was operating a quarry in the Jurupa Mountains, blasting out granite blocks for coastal jetties, when he was approached by California officials who wanted him to create a 17-acre hazardous-waste dump for the aerospace industry.

He refused at first, but agreed when they returned later that year and assured him the quarry area was leakproof.

The Stringfellow Acid Pits operated from 1956 to 1972 as a state-approved dumping ground where about 200 companies and individuals dumped nearly 35 million gallons of chemicals, some known to cause cancer, into unlined ponds.

The pits did in fact leak, and rain washed toxic chemicals into nearby Glen Avon on several occasions. Although Stringfellow, major defendant companies and Riverside County have settled that case against them for more than $96 million, the complicated lawsuit seeking damages for injuries allegedly caused by the toxic leakage is still pending against the state of California.

So far, cleanup costs since the dump closed in 1972 have totaled $120 million.

For the remainder of his life, Stringfellow suffered from having his name linked to the toxic dump.

"When we went to restaurants," his wife, Margaret, said Monday, "he would use the name String instead of Stringfellow because people would glare at him."

"It's unfortunate he had to live the last 25 years of his life with this cloud hanging over his head that was not of his making," said Chris Bisgaard, Stringfellow's attorney. "That really was a tragedy."

The Stringfellows left Riverside County and settled in Newport Beach in 1977, later moving to Costa Mesa. Stringfellow spent his last few years cleaning and restoring boats.

Besides his wife, Stringfellow is survived by two children.

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