City of Carson Declares Emergency over Toxic Material Left Behind by Shell

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In a bid to get someone, anyone, in the foreseeable future to clean up the toxic brew of methane and benzene percolating beneath hundreds of homes, the city of Carson declared a local emergency this week in its Carousel subdivision and pleaded for help.

A bunch of residents in the Los Angeles County city have already filed a class-action lawsuit against Shell Oil Co. for covering up crude-oil reservoir tanks with a thin layer of dirt—instead of cleaning up the area—after closing a 50-acre facility in 1966 and selling the property for residential development. But the lack of recognition by government authorities or Shell that a health hazard exists prompted city officials to escalate their effort.

The 4-0 vote by the city council asks Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and state environmental agencies to demand an immediate cleanup.

The underground toxic stew wasn’t discovered until 2008 when testing of a nearby manufacturing plant led back to the Carousel neighborhood. Testing immediately turned up high concentrations of benzene (a recognized carcinogen) and methane (a gas that poses a fire and explosion hazard).   

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is overseeing the cleanup process, which at this point mostly consists of making plans to determine the extent of the problem. The board ordered Shell to clean up the site more than two years ago, but those efforts have mostly consisted of a pilot program to dig up some yards for testing. 

Alan Caldwell, a spokesman for Shell, told the Los Angeles Times that they have “always been in favor of expediting the testing and cleanup process as we take the protection of the Carousel residents and the environment seriously.” But Shell also maintains throughout a 28-page document filed last month with the city that, “The Water Board and the other agencies have determined that there are no imminent health risks in the neighborhood.”   

The State Water Resources Control Board reports on Geotracker that, “A great deal of work remains to be done to fully characterize this site and to remove any chemicals that pose a potential threat to human health and the environment. After the environmental investigation is complete, the Regional Board will evaluate the risk to human health.”   

No actual cleanup is expected to begin before 2014, and 2015 seems like a more likely target by the powers that be. Shell representatives have said if much of a fuss is raised, it could delay a startup even longer.

In the meantime, residents have been warned not to eat any vegetables or fruit from trees on their property, and limit their contact with the soil in general.

Children, presumably, have been properly warned about getting too close to nature.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Erin Brockovich Praises Carson for Declaring Environmental Emergency in Contamination Case (by Sandy Mazza, The Daily Breeze)

Carson Declares Emergency over Contamination in Housing Tract (by Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times)

City Sues Shell Oil for Letting Developers Build on Top of Carcinogenic Tanks (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Former Shell Oil Company Kast Property Tank Farm (State Water Resources Control Board’s Geotracker)

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