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Residents Voice Fears of Health Risks Due to Lockheed Cleanup

June 27, 1997|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BURBANK — As lawsuits against the Lockheed Martin Corp. inch toward trial, about 140 neighbors of Lockheed's remaining holdings in Burbank attended a public forum Thursday night to voice fears of health risks from toxic cleanup at the former aircraft factory site.

They peppered a panel of Lockheed officials, lawyers and government bureaucrats with questions about activities on more than 100 acres of Lockheed land next to Burbank Airport.

"My house has been jeopardized by what happened at Lockheed. I am seriously concerned about the air I breathe from moment to moment," said Theresa Karam of the Toluca Terrace-Woods Homeowners Assn. Other residents asked about air quality monitoring at the site and voiced concerns over airborne dust from demolition work.

"I have problems with my throat," said Paul Stafura, adding he is angry that some of his neighbors were paid money by Lockheed as part of an out-of-court settlement to which he was not a party.

The residents got varied answers. Lawyers representing clients in lawsuits against Lockheed told residents there is reason to worry. But Lockheed and government representatives said many such fears were baseless.

The forum was organized by a group called Concerned Citizens of the San Fernando Valley Basin. Michael Signorelli, one of the group's leaders, is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Lockheed Martin, claiming ill effects from toxic pollution.

Burbank Airport is in the process of condemning the Lockheed land, and recently won the right to take it over, assuming the responsibility for finishing the demolition and cleanup begun on the site by the aerospace firm.

It was the second such forum since Lockheed signed a controversial settlement--reportedly for more than $60 million--with about 1,300 neighbors of its former military aircraft manufacturing plant last August.

The neighbors had claimed Lockheed exposed them to the risk of developing a variety of ailments, including cancer.

Lockheed maintains its plant presented no risk to the community, but rather than go to court the company paid between $2,500 and $300,000 to each claimant and provided funding for medical monitoring.

When news of the agreement was leaked, it sparked an uproar from those who felt excluded from the deal. Lockheed was promptly hit with five more lawsuits representing hundreds of people claiming to have been affected by pollutants emanating from the Lockheed property, Lockheed spokeswoman Maureen Curow said.

The company has repeatedly said it will make no more settlements, and intends to let the courts resolve the latecomer lawsuits.

The cases, some of which were filed in state court and others in federal court, will probably not come to trial for years, Curow said.

Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin, was Burbank's leading employer for more than six decades until the late '80s, when the company began slowly shifting its operations--including the legendary "Skunk Works," where advanced military planes were designed--to Palmdale and Georgia.

The move cost thousands of jobs, and left the city with a ghost town of darkened manufacturing buildings near the airport. Also left behind was a toxic mess: The site's ground water has been declared a federal Superfund site. Lockheed and other companies are so far footing the $150-million bill for its cleanup.

Neighbors of the site have voiced particular concern about a chemical called hexavalent chromium, a painting product used for years on the site.

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