Giant Toxic Plume Near San Diego

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – An aircraft manufacturer refuses to clean up groundwater contamination from one of the largest carcinogenic plumes of solvents in California history, neighboring families claim in a class action.
     Lead plaintiff Danielle Trujillo sued Ametek and Senior Aerospace Ketema on May 29 in Superior Court, over an industrial site in El Cajon, east of San Diego.
     California Aircraft Products began work at the site in 1954, changed its name to Straza Industries in 1964 and was purchased by Ametek in 1968, which made aircraft engine parts there for the next 20 years, the three plaintiff families say in the complaint.
     For 22 years Straza/Ametek dumped up to 7,000 gallons of waste per month into a sump on the site, the families say. The waste included trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, paint thinners, spent acid and alkaline solutions, chlorinated industrial solvents and other harmful chemicals and sludge, according to the complaint.
     The sump was 10 feet deep and 12 feet in diameter, with a concrete base and walls lined with redwood. Straza/Ametek told the Regional Water Quality Board in 1963 that this would “prevent filtering into native soil,” the lawsuit states.
     The families say the defendants “did not reveal the nature or design of the sump,” which San Diego County discovered only decades later after the chemicals had penetrated into the soil, through the fractured granite, and into groundwater.
     In 1987, chlorinated solvent concentration in groundwater exceeded 801,000 parts per billion, the families say. In 2007, it still exceeded 48,000 parts per billion.
     “The goal of this lawsuit is to help people in the area understand what they have been exposed to and provide them with compensation for proper testing and medical monitoring,” said plaintiff’s attorney John Fiske.
     “The Ketema facility is still up and running and the dumping has ceased, but the plume still exists in the groundwater and moves in the soil.”
     The chlorinated solvent plumes are massive, extending 1.3 miles westward and down-gradient, according to the complaint. Magnolia Elementary School shares a property line with the Ametek property, and the subject plume is directly underneath the school.
     Since at least 1985, and most likely before then, students and teachers at Magnolia have been exposed to toxic vapor from Ametek’s dumping of chlorinated waste into the sump, according to the complaint. Students play in the fields and in the soil containing contaminated vapors. Teachers and students breathe the contaminated air, often in unventilated or underventilated rooms, exposed to toxins, for hours each week, for years during their educational or professional tenure, the families say.
     The state Department of Toxic Substances Control reported that air quality samples at the site in 2004 and 2005 showed TCE concentrations exceeding 130 parts per billion by volume and inside the classroom levels up to 1.6 micrograms per cubic meter.
     TCE or, Trichloroethylene, is a volatile organic compound used primarily as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts, and also as an ingredient in adhesives and paint. It is carcinogenic.
     Also in the plume, in addition to the chemicals already listed, are, benzene, toluene, dioxane and vinyl chloride, according to the complaint. Exposure to such chemicals can cause cancer, organ failure, respiratory damage, and central nervous system damage.
     The Department of Toxic Substances Control’s risk management range rated the cancers risk for the December 2014 and March 2015 levels above the “acceptable” range – at up to 42 times the threshold guidelines.
     Julie Chan, chief of the State Water Board’s groundwater protection branch, said her staff is providing regulatory oversight of the cleanup, but have not seen the lawsuit and so could not comment on it.
     The Department of Toxic Substances Control recommended in November 2014 that precautionary actions be taken, such as increased ventilation in classrooms, and continued monitoring. The Human and Ecological Risk Office supported the recommendations.
     “The school has been shut down for the next year,” Fiske said. “The site is currently under investigation to determine what chemicals are moving in which locations.”
     The plaintiffs seek class certification and damages for gross negligence and public nuisance.
     Fiske is with Gomez Trial Attorneys.

%d bloggers like this: