EPA investigating parcel neighboring Disney

BURBANK — The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday confirmed it is evaluating the so-called Polliwog site, an 11-acre parcel at the center of two recent lawsuits that allege the Walt Disney Co. has for decades contaminated groundwater with toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing chromium 6.

“The EPA has supported and will continue to support the state’s efforts to determine what if any action to take at this site,” said Francisco Arcaute, spokesman for the agency’s Los Angeles field office.

Disney officials this week denied all of the charges levied in the lawsuits, citing a soil investigation by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control conducted in October 2006 that found chromium levels in the area “below levels of concern” and well within California and EPA regulations.

“In light of this, we believe these lawsuits are grossly inaccurate and meritless,” Disney spokesman Jonathan Friedland said. “Disney and its employees have been proud members of the Burbank community for nearly 70 years. The health and safety of employees and residents are among our highest priorities.”

The latest lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of 16 individuals with ties to the Rancho District. It was filed by the Sacramento-based firm Kershaw Cutter & Ratinoff LLP, which is also representing Burbank resident Dennis Jackson and the watchdog group Environmental World Watch in a similar lawsuit filed June 3.

According to the latest lawsuit, Disney dumped wastewater contaminated with hexavalent chromium from its on-site cooling systems down the centerline of Parkside Avenue, toward Parish Place and across Riverside Drive into the Polliwog, a parcel near the studio’s Imagineering facilities.

Plaintiffs in the case include Burbank residents Robert and Inge Hill, Nichola Ellis, Madonna Fowler, Emil Klimach and Dennis Weisenbaugh, as well as Nancy Nelson and Israel Esteban, who trained horses in the area.

Each of the plaintiffs first became aware of the alleged toxic contaminates, including chromium 6, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, in February, after Environmental World Watch’s investigation reportedly revealed chromium 6 contamination in Polliwog Park and the surrounding area.

Environmental World Watch, a Delaware corporation with offices in North Hollywood, was hired by the Burbank Rancho Home Owners Assn. in February 2006 to investigate the proposed construction of a sewer line in the area. During testing of the Polliwog parcel — which is within Burbank city limits but owned by Los Angeles — as part of a challenge to the draft environmental impact report, the watchdog group discovered “significant quantities” of chromium 6, according to the June 3 lawsuit.

Still, a concurrent investigation by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control revealed chromium levels in the area to be “below levels of concern” and within California environmental limits.

But the plaintiffs claim that ongoing tests by Environmental World Watch show that dirt dust and micro-fine hexavalent particles have migrated off of the Polliwog property, attaching themselves to clothing, shoes, hair and horse hooves to such an extent that anyone walking on the parcel would be exposed to the toxic chemicals and carry residue with them. The undeveloped site is technically part of the 4,200-acre Griffith Park and is between West Riverside Drive, South Reese Place, South Beachwood Drive and the 134 Freeway.

Environmental World Watch, which withdrew two similar lawsuits against Disney in the last nine months, informed residents in February of the results of its most recent investigation.

C. Brooks Cutter, attorney for the plaintiffs, would not comment on the lawsuits.

The plaintiffs seek damages for restitution, “disgorgement of profits” and compensation for any damage to surrounding property values at a sum to be determined at the time of trial.

 CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO covers City Hall and the courts in Burbank. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at christopher. cadelago@latimes.com.

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