CARSON (CBSLA.com) — The Carson City Council voted Monday to declare a state of local emergency over polluted soil in one local neighborhood.
A packed audience of residents gave a standing ovation when the resolution was passed.
“This is an environmental disaster in the city of Carson,” said Mayor Jim Dear. “This contamination is clearly severe and clearly is doing damage to our city.”
In March 2011, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered Shell Oil Company to “assess, monitor, and cleanup and abate total petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants of concern” in the soil and groundwater in the Carousel community.
The report (PDF) found higher-than-normal levels of benzine, arsenic, lead, and explosive methane gas in over 200 soil samples of the property.
The Carousel tract of homes was built on top of land that Shell had previously owned and used to store barrels of oil, according to city officials.
In the early 1960s, the tanks were drained and abandoned and the property sold to a developer. According to city officials, the area was supposed to be cleaned by Shell Oil before the 278 homes were built.
Mayor Dear said the resolution will force Shell to the bargaining table, after promising to address the situation four years ago.
“The City Council of the City of Carson hereby declares the existence of a state of local emergency within the Carousel tract,” the resolution reads.
“We request that the Governor proclaim a ‘state of emergency’…because in the opinion of the City Council…local available resources are inadequate to cope with the emergency.”
Residents like Cathy Post who live in the Carousel community north of Lomita Blvd. between Avalon Blvd. and Main St. have reported adverse health affects from living near the site.
“Within two years of living here, I was hit with flesh-eating disease and I remember thinking, ‘What the hell happened to me?’” Post said. “I almost died from it twice.”
Among those lending support to the cause is environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who attended the council meeting.
Brockovich said in more than two decades of work she had never seen a city council pass a resolution declaring a local emergency. She said Carousel is among the most serious cases of contamination in the country.
“You have a known contaminant benzine, children cannot play in their yard, years and years have passed,” she said. “The contamination underneath could cause an explosion, and I just don’t think it gets more serious than that.”
Mayor Dear says Shell should purchase the homes from residents and the land from the city.
“The only way to clean the homes, and to clean the land under them, would be to remove these homes that are on slabs,” said Mayor Dear. “There’s no other way to do it.”
But after years of battle, many resident say they just want out.
“I don’t want to live in Carson anymore,” said one resident.
Shell did not send a representative to the meeting Monday, and a call to Shell Oil’s media headquarters was not returned.
Shell did send a letter to the council saying that they don’t believe the health danger from the gases is as desperate as the neighbors and city officials feel. They also said that by passing Monday’s resolution, they may actually be slowing down the cleanup process.
The soil findings were previously blamed as a major factor in derailing plans for a possible NFL stadium in the northwest corner of Carson.