Teresa Alvarez, a resident of the Carousel community in Carson, Calif., that has been impacted by recent discovery of contaminated soil beneath her house, is one of many people who say they are being plagued with issues from toxic substances in their own backyard.
Alvarez has been using her bathtub to wash dishes for a year because the kitchen sink won’t drain due to pipe erosion from the oil in the ground. The walls and floors above the underground sewer pipes are covered in mold and fungus. As she babysits children to supplement her income during retirement, she has been careful to keep them off the swingset and playhouse in the backyard for years because the residents have been warned not to dig into the soil in their yards. Ripe, delicious pomegranates that grow on a tree in her backyard go to waste year after year.
“We can’t eat them,” says Alvarez. “We got all this stuff for the kids, but we can’t use it.”
Eight years ago, through soil testing, the ground on which 285 houses have been built was found to be full of toxic chemicals such as benzene. The ground is caked with oil from the former underground oil tank farm belonging to Shell Oil Company.
A six-year project of excavating the earth around the homes has already begun, where the soil from yards of homes, in eight-home clusters, is excavated and disposed of. The yard-pits will be refilled with clean dirt, but Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and Shell’s cleanup plans don’t include a remedy for the contaminated soil beneath the foundation of the homes, or beneath the streets.
Residents are left to deal with bad draining issues and noxious odors from sewer pipes, while plumbers are discovering disintegrating pipes caked in black soil that “reeks of petroleum.”
Alvarez was quoted $10,000 by a plumber just to begin work on fixing the kitchen sink. Next-door neighbors received a $20,000 quote to fix their pipe issues. The Keith family, whose home was built directly on top of an oil storage tank that has been crushed and left behind, was forced to get new sewer pipes costing an eye-popping $43,000. Another neighbor recently paid out $22,000 to have sewer pipes blocked off and rerouted. The issue of a leaky kitchen sink was finally fixed, and now the hoards of drain flies will hopefully stop.
For many, leaky pipes, sludgy yards and odors of sewage are the least of their problems. One 14-year-old-girl spent her birthday in Children’s Hospital because of health issues linked to toxic chemical exposure.
Benzene is a key ingredient in gasoline and has been linked to many life-threatening diseases such as lymphomas, blood cancers and disorders such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), and anemia.