Toxic Living: California Neighbors Sue After Finding Homes Were Built on Oil-Saturated Soil

In the late 1960s, the county approved developers' plans to build a residential neighborhood on the property. Ironically, county officials initially turned down the proposal, not because of possible chemical concerns, but because they thought an industrial use would garner more tax revenue.

The city of Carson wouldn't be established until 1968, after the first of the Carousel houses had gone up.

A handful of other defendants are named in the class-action lawsuit, including now-defunct developer Barclay Hollander Corp., which was acquired by Oceanic Properties in 1969 and is now part of a stable of holdings affiliated with Dole Foods. Girardi, however, has made it clear he wants Shell to pay.

"You would think this company who absolutely, positively knew what it was doing would say, 'Okay hey we're caught. How do we help these people, how do we get them all out of there immediately?" Girardi said. "That's what you would think."

Shell, in its statement, said it was the developer's sole responsibility to ensure the site was properly cleaned before being developed.

"The developer had a soil engineer investigate the site and was aware of the soil conditions on the site... The developer, not Shell, removed residual oil and water from the reservoirs, demolished the reservoirs, graded the property, got approvals from both the County of LA and City of Carson for the grading and development, and then sold the homes in several stages," the statement read.

Shell Questions Source of Contamination

Shell also questioned whether the storage site was the only source of the contamination. "Shell's soil sampling program in the Carousel community continues to find compounds in addition to crude oil... As a result, there appear to be additional sources of contamination contributing to the environmental issues at the site," the company said.

Marty Ordman, vice president of marketing and communications for Dole, said the company would have no comment on the lawsuit or Shell's assertion of responsibility, citing pending litigation.

In legal responses filed after Girardi Keese's initial complaint, attorneys for both Shell and the developers have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the statute of limitations on many of the claims ran out decades ago and that others, including the fraud allegations, also failed to meet legal requirements.

But officials from the mayor and city manager of Carson to the head of the Los Angeles County Regional Water Board believe that the mess in Carousel is Shell's responsibility and they should remediate the property.

Mary Ann Lutz, chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the ground is poisonous.

"It's extremely serious. We have contaminations two feet under ground," she said. "These people are planting vegetables and eating the vegetables that they're planting in their little gardens. Their kids are crawling on the grass where two feet down we have contaminants."

Drinking water, she said, has so far tested to be safe.

Carousel may not be the only neighborhood affected. Testing has been ordered on an adjacent gated community, a middle school, and the homes just outside Carousel's borders.

Jim Tarr, founder of Stone Lions Environmental Corporation, the environmental testing agency hired by Girardi Keese, scoffed at the notion that Shell is acting responsibly for what he says is clear evidence of potentially lethal contamination.

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