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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Loss of Credibility in Campus Methane Case

November 22, 2003

I am the parent of two recent Beverly Hills High School graduates and a former president of the Beverly Hills Board of Education. "Beverly Hills Ignores Belmont's Toxic Lessons" (Commentary, Nov. 17) continues the pattern of deception from Ed Masry and Erin Brockovich-Ellis. They claimed that there was "methane gas on the campus at 227,000 parts per million." This is 227,000/1,000,000, or 22.7% methane. From elementary school math and science we know that this would be more methane than oxygen in our air. This ridiculous claim would mean that any cigarette smoker would long ago have blown up the high school.

There has been this pattern of claims from Masry and Brockovich that continue to be proven so scientifically absurd that it no longer matters whether it is deceit or incompetence. It is time we understood that they have lost all credibility.

A.J. Willmer

Beverly Hills

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With today's sophisticated methods, chemical compounds can be determined in parts per billion. Benzene and hexane (be it normal or iso) can be measured down to 1 ppb. It is true that benzene is a suspected carcinogen. But it is not dangerous unless it is in the parts-per-million range.

The authors should have provided the data showing the hydrocarbons present to be at toxic levels. If the amounts found were in ppb, as they are just about every place in this world, there is nothing to worry about.

The article leads one to suspect that Brockovich-Ellis and Masry may have ulterior motives connected to litigation they instituted against the city of Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills High School and Venoco Inc.

Adrian Gruia

Beverly Hills

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No one knows whether there is a lesson to be learned by Beverly Hills because the merits of the suit have not yet been decided. Regardless of its merits, the suit will drain money from a public school system -- money that could go to hiring teachers, buying library books, purchasing classroom computers. If the suit succeeds in court, or if there is a settlement, a large percentage of the money the school pays out will go into the pockets of Brockovich-Ellis and Masry.

I can understand why they would jump at an opportunity to stir public sentiment against the defendants in hopes of pressuring them into a settlement. It's a strategy that has worked for them before. What I can't understand is why The Times would help them. Their effort to win in the press, rather than in court, leaves me wondering whether they doubt the strength of their own case.

Douglas H. Borsom

Pasadena

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