Laurie Avocado/ Flickr Creative Commons
The view from South Broadway in Carson, California.
Toxic contamination under houses in a Carson neighborhood may move the city's leaders to declare a state of local emergency.
Almost 300 houses sit atop what used to be a petroleum tank farm in the Carousel neighborhood of Carson. Shell Oil sold the site in the 1960s to a developer. Decades later, investigations revealed toxic and cancer-causing chemicals under the houses. Since 2008, homeowners have appealed to local and state officials to clean them up, most recently at a city council meeting on July 18.
“The meeting we were having was really turning into another town hall meting like we've had many many times before,” said Carson Mayor Jim Dear.
In a move that could raise the pressure on Shell, Dear is calling for the declaration of a local emergency.
“The order given to Shell Oil Corporation needs to be acted on,” he said. “I feel that declaring a local emergency will cause action on the part of Shell and the water board.”
A local declaration would not alter the regulatory responsibility the water board already has, nor would it create a legal responsibility for Shell to act any faster.
Maria Mehranian, the chair of the regional water quality control board, insists that water officials are moving as fast as they can to clean up contamination.
“It doesn't change the course of action for the water board,” Mehranian said. “Everything the water board had to do, [it] has done. And we are on our way to conclude everything we needed to do.
Mehranian and Mayor Jim Dear agree about one thing: they both want Shell to purchase all of the contaminated properties. Shell has not yet offered cash to any homeowners.
“Could the emergency resolve that?” she asked rhetorically. “I dunno; I'm not sure.”
In a "frequently asked questions" document dated July 29, Shell addresses why it has not offered to purchase all the properties. The company notes that county officials and the water board "found no need to demolish or condemn any homes in the Carousel neighborhood." It goes on to say that Shell "expects to evaluate remediation methods that can be employed, where possible, without demolishing homes to preserve the integrity of the Carousel community."
The Carson City Council will consider his proposal tonight in the Helen Kawagoe Council Chambers beginning at 5 p.m.
Updated July 29: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Shell had offered cash to a few homeowners.