Carson poised to declare contamination 'emergency'

The Carson City Council is poised to vote Monday on declaring a "local emergency" as part of an effort to speed the cleanup of a residential neighborhood that sits atop an old oil tank farm.

The resolution cites the presence of "explosive methane gas, carcinogenic benzene and other chemicals of concern" in the yards of the 285 homes in the Carousel tract, where investigators discovered benzene and methane gas in 2008.

Residents have been advised not to eat fruits and vegetables grown in their yards and to minimize contact with soil on their property.

The homes, built in the 1970s, were constructed on top of an oil tank farm formerly owned by Shell.

The regulatory agency overseeing the cleanup, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, has determined that Shell is responsible for the cleanup. But the cleanup is not expected to begin for at least a year, pending a battery of tests by investigators hired by Shell to determine whether the chemicals are turning into hazardous vapors.

For years, the site has been at the center of investigations by state agencies and lawsuits filed by residents who blame the contamination for a host of illnesses, including cancer, skin rashes and tumors in their pets.

The city joined residents in their lawsuit against Shell last year, but with state environmental agencies taking the lead, Carson officials say their hands are tied.

Investigators hired by Shell have been conducting house-to-house testing of the soil and air, and expect the tests to be completed by March 2014. Shell has yet to submit a comprehensive plan for cleanup of the entire site.

The company has said regulatory agencies overseeing the cleanup have found no "imminent health risk" in the community, insisting that there is no explosive risk from the methane and that they have complied with all of the water quality board's requirements.

In a statement, Shell says the high levels of chemicals cited by the city in the resolution have been found under pavement in the community and not under homes in recent rounds of soil and air testing.


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