Friday, October 9, 2009

Carousel Networking

Hello Everyone,
This is are blog spot for the people of the Carousel Community located in Carson, CA. I have created this so we may put our thoughts together and talk about all the recent activity and news going on in our backyard. Especially with the contamination of our homes and lives.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has agreed to pursue litigation against Shell Oil Co. for contaminating a Carson housing tract.

Shell recently discovered elevated levels of methane and benzene underneath the Carousel neighborhood. The contamination has been traced to underground oil tanks the company operated on the site until the 1960s.

Girardi and Keese, the law firm that works with Brockovich, held a meeting with about 300 residents Saturday in Carson to recruit clients for a lawsuit against Shell, which could be filed as soon as November.

Residents were informed that, in some spots, benzene has been detected at 100,000 times the state standard. In some soil gas samples, methane has been found to exceed the explosive threshold.

"You've been exposed to a very high level," said Robert Bowcock, an environmental consultant retained by the firm. "I'm incensed and angry that Shell let this happen."

Brockovich, who lives in Southern California, did not attend, but has pledged to be at a future meeting. Brockovich was the heroine of the movie starring Julia Roberts, which told the story of chromium-6 contamination in Hinkley, Calif. In that case, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was forced to pay a historic $333 million in damages.

Since the movie came out in 2000, Brockovich has been involved in numerous environmental contamination cases across the country, including several involving Shell.

Bowcock said that the contamination is "magnitudes greater" than levels found almost two years ago near the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance. In that case, ExxonMobil agreed to buy 10 homes and offered price protections for the owners of 10 more.

The testing at the Carousel tract is still in its early stages, and Bowcock said it was premature to predict the outcome. But residents said they were growing increasingly alarmed.

"I've been worried about this, but I'm scared to death now," said Barbara Post, president of the Carousel Homeowners' Association. "Shell can't replace my house, and they can't replace that neighborhood."

The Carousel development is north of Lomita Boulevard, between Marbella and Panama avenues. It includes about 275 homes.

The testing began more than two years ago, when the Department of Toxic Substances Control launched an investigation of the old Turco Products plant. Those tests turned up elevated levels of benzene, a carcinogen, which was traced to the Shell oil tanks.

Shell has been drilling samples in the streets all summer, and recently began asking homeowners for permission to do further drilling on private property. About 100 residents have signed access agreements with Shell, and the oil giant has taken soil samples from about a dozen homes.

"We take the levels that were detected very seriously," said Alison Chassin, a Shell spokeswoman. "We believe the next step is to do these tests on residential properties as quickly as possible."

Bowcock advised residents against signing the access agreements, saying they were likely designed to protect Shell. He said he would ask for a moratorium on the testing until the law firm could have input on the process.

"Shell is not interested in being your friend," he told the homeowners. "They will do absolutely the minimum they are required to do. We know the games they can play and we're going to hold their feet to the fire."

Many residents signed retainer agreements with Girardi and Keese at the meeting on Saturday.

"I am very concerned," said Cecilia Miramontes, who noted that her husband died of cancer in 2002. "I don't know for sure if it's caused by something like that. But my baby is living with me, and I'm really concerned about the value of my house."

Others said they were going to take some time to think about it before signing up as a plaintiff.

"The lawyers are making it very scary," Mary Weil said. "We want to wait, and ask what we're getting involved in."

The firm intends to pursue property damage claims and personal injury claims related to health effects from the contamination.

Under the attorney-client agreement, the law firm assumes all the litigation costs, which could run into millions of dollars. The firm would take one third of any settlement amount, or 40 percent of any judgment awarded at trial.

Residents were warned that the process could take years.

"It's going to be an ugly, long road," Bowcock said. "We will be fighting and fighting and fighting."