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Erin Brockovich Called in to Oil-Tainted Carson Neighborhood

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Developers were so resourceful in the sixties--when they wanted to build single family houses on a 50 acre tract formerly used as an oil tank farm, they just slapped a cute name like Carousel on it and watched the buyers roll in. Flash forward, and about 285 homeowners in the Carson neighborhood of Carousel are in the middle of a lawsuit against Shell Oil, developer Barclay Hollander Corporation (now owned by Dole Foods), and others, following the discovery of scary amounts of methane and the carcinogen benzene in the land. Activist Erin Brockovich brought in her go-to law firm Girardi and Keese to represent the homeowners. According to the LA Times, Shell used the land to store oil in concrete tubs covered with wood from 1924 until the mid-sixties. Lawyer Tom Girardi says Shell knew the area was polluted when it sold it, and the executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is overseeing soil testing in Carousel, told the LAT no one would be allowed to build on the site today.

In December the Daily Breeze reported that real estate agents are having trouble closing escrow in Carousel, and that "There are almost no 'For Sale' signs up in the neighborhood, because agents have learned that they draw too much negative attention." All of the experts the paper rounded up seem pretty horrified at the contaminant levels, and the water board has told residents not to eat food grown in their yards. The LAT and the Daily Breeze have both dug up plenty of anecdotes about surprising health issues.

The water board says Shell is responsible for the cleanup, but Shell says it's the developer's problem. That is, if there even is a problem and if it's even caused by the former oil storage. The LAT says "Gene Freed, Shell's project manager, said chemical residue at some homes could have been left behind by previous owners who enjoyed fiddling with cars, or been from pesticides or other household chemicals."
· Toxic soil lurks beneath Carson neighborhood [LAT]