Cancerous tumors, asthma, anxiety, blood disorders and other illnesses have been the complaints of residents of Carousel, a 50-acre community of 285 homes in Carson, Calif., where an oil dump was discovered only a few feet underground.
As of last May, the six-year cleanup project has officially begun. In groups of eight homes at a time, the soil will be excavated 5-10 feet deep, and replaced with fresh dirt that isn’t soaked in oil and petroleum waste. Contaminated groundwater plumes that supply drinking water will be remediated.
The community of homes was built in the late 1960s on top of an abandoned Shell Oil tank farm. Eight years ago, soil testing found that the soil was heavily contaminated with benzene and other toxic chemicals. In a contract signed in 1960 by the tract’s developer, Barclay Hollander Corp., Shell Oil Co. was responsible for cleaning up the oil before the homes were to be built. However, the oil company simply knocked down the old tanks, and instead of removing the concrete and waste oil, it covered the whole area with a few feet of clean dirt.
In a mass tort claim by 1,491 current and former residents, Shell Oil and Dole Food Co. (current owner of Barclay Hollander Corp.) have agreed to pay out $120 million for emotional and physical turmoil in a settlement agreement.
Barbara Post, president of the Carousel Homeowners Association, decided to check out the progress after the cleanup efforts had begun. “I happened to take a peek in there, and I was horrified to see 10 homes dug 5 to 10 feet down right up to their foundation. You have no idea the cancer that’s in that tract. I started mapping it out and I stopped. I just cried. I thought, I cannot believe this has happened to the Carousel.”
The effects of long-term benzene exposure have been evident.
“Our latest case of cancer is a 14-year-old girl,” said Post, “who spent her birthday in Children’s Hospital. They have no insurance. We have other people in the tract who can’t make their mortgages or buy medication. They need the money and we need the delays to stop.”
Benzene is a known cancer-causing chemical that is found in a wide variety of products and industries. It has been linked to life-threatening illnesses such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic anemia.