Hundreds of residents living near the McColl hazardous waste dump in Fullerton filed a series of lawsuits Thursday against developers, dump owners and city, county and state government, claiming that they have been subjected to increased risk of cancer, respiratory disease and stillbirths.
The six lawsuits were filed by Robert H. Sulnick, the Santa Monica lawyer who filed claims starting in May on behalf of 685 people living near the abandoned dump for a total of about $4.7 billion against the City of Fullerton.
The city has rejected all of those claims, saying they were submitted too late, according to Richard G. Montevideo, an attorney representing the city.
Sulnick said tests on a limited number of his clients show immune-system deficiencies and other health problems.
"Environmentally, they are living next to poison," said Sulnick.
Earlier this year, a group of about 141 property owners near the McColl dump settled claims against developers and government entities for a total of more than $11 million. Individual families received up to $129,000 each.
Those suing Thursday are residents who did not join in the earlier lawsuit and have received nothing. Montevideo said some of the families in the two groups are next-door neighbors.
Only Sought a Cleanup
Some residents in the area said earlier that they decided not to file suit because all they wanted was for the World War II-era dump for high-octane aviation fuel waste and oil drilling muds to be cleaned up.
A $26.5-million federal Superfund project in which contaminants were to be hauled to a hazardous waste disposal facility in Kern County was halted in May, 1985, by a Superior Court judge who ordered state health officials to conduct a full environmental impact study.
The study, launched earlier this year, was expected to take a year or more to complete, according to officials with the state Department of Health Services.
The McColl dump was opened in the 1940s as a repository for refinery wastes and oil drilling muds. It lies beneath a vacant field and part of a golf course at the Los Coyotes Country Club in northwest Fullerton and is bordered on three sides by homes.
In the earlier lawsuit, the City of Fullerton admitted no liability in settling for $2.5 million.
"There is no way the city can afford to settle this case," said Montevideo. The city is now self-insured, he said, adding that it was impossible to say how much past insurance coverage would theoretically apply to the new lawsuit.
The city has maintained that new lawsuits over the dump are barred by statutes of limitation. The city's position is that residents should have known of the controversial and well-publicized McColl dump and litigation over the cleanup long ago, Montevideo said.
"The issues of McColl were in the media for many years," the lawyer said. "Let's put it this way: A person would have to be living in a vacuum without any outside contact to not have been aware earlier of any rights they're claiming now.
Other major contributors to the first settlement were two developers, the William Lyon Co. and J. F. Shea Co. Inc., and the six oil firms that ran the dump.
Sulnick said his clients believed developers and government agencies, which claimed for years that the dump was no cause for alarm.
"They all say the same thing, that for years they have been told by city, state and federal authorities that the dump was safe," Sulnick said.
'A Beautiful Neighborhood'
"It's a beautiful neighborhood. They like it, and they were not aware of the danger until the publicity over the first lawsuit settling," Sulnick said.
The lawsuits claimed that developers were negligent in building near the dump and that the city issued construction permits for the developments and failed to warn property buyers of the hazard.
Since the administrative claims were filed against Fullerton earlier this year, the city has been bracing for the second round of litigation, dubbed "McColl II."
There are more than 200 pieces of property involved in McColl II, compared to about 140 in McColl I, Montevideo said.
And there are almost 100 homeowners in the area who have yet to claim damages, according to the attorney for the city.
"That's another reason why the city cannot settle," Montevideo said. "There's a real possibility of McColl III. This could go on forever."