Southern California environment news and trends

Carson City Council declares emergency over Carousel contamination

Molly Peterson/KPCC

City of Carson Mayor Jim Dear listens as Erin Brockovich speaks to media after Carson declared a local emergency over Carousel neighborhood contamination. Brockovich works with the law firm Girardi & Keese, which is representing Carousel residents.

The Carson City Council declared a local state of emergency Monday. The urgent problem is toxic contamination left in land decades ago where houses were later built in the Carousel neighborhood, city officials said.

The Carousel tract of 285 homes sits on land that once held open tanks of petroleum. Once drained, they left behind methane, which poses a risk of explosion, and benzene, known to cause cancer. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has ordered Shell Oil to clean up the properties.

But Carson Mayor Jim Dear told a special meeting that an emergency declaration will send a message, both to state leaders, that the city needs help, and to Shell, that the city wants something more.

“Put the money up to buy every property in the Carousel tract,” Dear challenged Shell. “Make the people whole. Then once you own the property you clean the property and then you can sell it for another use.”

No one from Shell Oil attended the hearing. Earlier Monday the company released a 28-page letter arguing that the contamination poses no imminent threat, so Carson has no legal basis for its action.

Shell Oil's Gene Freed wrote that the company "strongly objects" to the resolution because it "ignores both the extensive testing results collected since then and the conclusions of the agencies in charge of the investigation."

Freed argued that Carson does not face an environmental emergency because regulators have concluded that levels of methane, benzene and other compounds pose no imminent threat to public health.

"Given Shell’s diligence and compliance with the cleanup and abatement order, the City’s adoption of an emergency declaration ... would be unnecessary and unproductive, as well as factually unsupported," Freed wrote.  

At the meeting, Carson city councilman Albert Robles disputed Shell’s letter, point by point. 

"It says, ‘Shell takes the protection of the carousel residents and the environment seriously,'" he said, to guffaws from the audience. He followed that with an expletive.   

That talk went over big with Carousel residents packing the hall. They have grown impatient as their homes have been tested for soil, water and air contamination over five years. One of those residents is Barbara Post, president of the homeowner’s association.

“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re here,” Post told the city council. “We’re in this together. Let’s get this done and let’s get my neighbors out of there.”

In a written statement issued after the meeting, Shell Oil spokesman Alan Caldwell pointed out that the regional water board must approve and move forward cleanup plans. 

"We have worked as quickly as possible to address the Water Board’s requirements and have always provided the necessary resources to comply with their directives in a timely manner," Caldwell said. "We 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."

A remedial action plan remains a few steps away and is not expected until winter.

Read Shell's Letter to the Carson City Council about the emergency resolution

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