Carson's Carousel residents frustrated at Regional Water Board, Shell Oil over toxic soil

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Officials at the regional water quality control board say they’re almost ready with a cleanup order for the Carousel neighborhood of Carson. Some residents of the Carousel neighborhood are greeting those plans with anger and criticism.

Environmental testing has revealed toxic soil contamination under hundreds of homes on land where Shell Oil once ran a tank farm.

Soil tests for hydrocarbon show elevated cancer risk for hundreds of homes. Scientific sampling found benzene above levels the state deems safe in about 15 percent of homes tested.

The regional water quality control board's executive officer, Sam Unger, says that's why his agency will order Shell Oil to clean up property the company operated in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Unger says the regional board is opening up more public comment on cleanup plans because nearly 300 homes sit on the site of a former crude oil reservoir. "The public will see the plans at the same time that we see them. We will wait for their comments and consider their comments before we finalize approval of those plans."

Shell is helping test and investigate the site, but regional regulators will set goals for cleaning up property to levels safe for residences. Shell has not yet said whether it will cooperate in cleanup.

Some homeowners waved signs and shouted at Unger and other water regulators at Thursday's public meeting. Businessman and former mayor of Carson Mike Mitoma says delays in cleaning up soil contamination are driving property values down – trapping residents in their properties. "A lot of the people are retired. They’re in their golden years, their twilight years, and the thought of waiting 10 years to move – they’re not going to be able to do that. And even after they clean it up, my fear is that the values will not be there."

Mitoma is among hundreds of Carson residents suing Shell Oil over the contamination. Unger told Thursday's crowd that once state officials set cleanup goals, removing cancer-causing chemicals could take between two and 10 years.

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