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Shell Oil cleanup plan for Carson's Carousel neighborhood rejected by regulators

In March, protesters tossed toy guinea pigs at a sign for the Shell Pipeline Company outside their facility in Carson.
In March, protesters tossed toy guinea pigs at a sign for the Shell Pipeline Company outside their facility in Carson.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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Regional water regulators have rejected the first part of a plan put forward by Shell Oil to clean up toxic chemicals in soil under the Carousel neighborhood in the city of Carson.

Two-hundred-eighty-five homes sit atop what once was a petroleum tank farm.  Shell Oil sold the site in the 1960s to a developer. Decades later, investigators found benzene, methane, and other chemicals in soil at the site.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has ordered Shell to investigate the sites, propose remediation and clean them up. Earlier this year, Shell submitted its proposed “site specific cleanup goals” for the contamination – something like a road map for addressing contamination that needs regulator approval. 

In a 15-page letter, the water board’s executive officer Sam Unger acknowledges that Shell’s investigation of the contamination so far has “provided reliable, comprehensive, and high quality data.” But he also writes that Shell’s goals “do not appear to take into account” regional regulations, state policy, and federal law, adding that they “may not be fully protective of unrestricted residential land use,” as the land is being used right now.

Regulators are asking Shell to meet with them before mid-September to discuss how to revise the plan. The company now has two months to submit a new version to the water board.

Residents of Carson have been critical of Shell and of the water board throughout a lengthy process toward cleanup.

An investigator for the law firm that represents many residents, Bob Bowcock, wrote in an e-mail that he was "encouraged" by the letter, but added, "[t]he comments in the [regional board's] review are the kind of comments that any common sense person could have made over year ago." He continued, "Why do we have to play this very dangerous game of chicken with the calendar? These people are in harms way and we just keep going back and forth without any real progress."

Late last month, the City of Carson passed a resolution declaring a “local state of emergency” over the contamination, which is in soil, soil vapor and groundwater. Carousel neighbors and their city leaders have demanded that Shell purchase the homes over the old tank farm site.