Carson mayor calls for state of emergency in polluted Carousel neighborhood (map)

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Frustrated by years of delay and protracted cleanup efforts, the mayor of Carson has called on city leaders to declare a state of emergency over polluted soil that is affecting a neighborhood of about 300 homes.

More than two years have passed since the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered Shell Oil to implement a cleanup plan for the Carousel neighborhood, which was built on top of land that the company once owned and used to store barrels of oil. Past testing has found cancer-causing and toxic chemicals under homes in soil, soil vapor, and in groundwater. 

On Tuesday, Mayor Jim Dear called on the city council to declare a local emergency, a move he said might be used to prod regulators into action and ultimately force Shell to buy up all the homes, relocate residents and replace the contaminated ground with clean soil.

"It's been 5 years since the situation was discovered, and we've gone through a long, long process of discovery and analysis and a legal order to clean the land, but it just seems to me that a delay game is being played with the lives of the residents of the Carousel tract, and that's why we're taking this kind of more dramatic action," Dear said in an interview by phone.

But Dear, and Carson residents, would have a lot of hurdles to clear before anything resembling the scenario he laid out begins to happen. Dear said he has the power to call an emergency city council meeting, but council members still have to pass a resolution making it official. 

Even then, it's unclear whether a local declaration would give residents much leverage. The state water control board has suggested that its power to enforce the original order is limited.

L.A. regional water control board chair Maria Mehranian earlier told KPCC that it’s a complex problem.

“The steps that we’re taking need to be methodical, need to be scientific,” she said.

As for Shell, company spokesman Alan Caldwell said it takes its responsibility seriously.

“We want to minimize impact to the community, we want to do a good job and get it right, and address any issues we’re responsible for and continue to move forward as best as possible,” Caldwell told KPCC late last year.

Dear was unable to give any details about how this latest move fits into any larger legal strategy, because the city is engaged in a lawsuit against Shell. He did say that if there was an alternative to removing the homes to get at the contaminated soil, he would be open to it, but he didn't seem convinced that would happen.

"I really feel there's one outcome, and that is to relocate the residents," Dear said.

The city council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting about the matter on Monday, July 29, at 5 p.m.

View Carson Carousel Neighborhood in a larger map

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