Home » More Residents Seeking Damages from Lockheed

More Residents Seeking Damages from Lockheed

August 16, 1996

By BETH BARRETT, CHIP JACOBS AND LEE CONDON
Daily News Staff Writers

Burbank residents who missed out on a $60 million settlement with Lockheed Martin Corp. have brought a class-action lawsuit seeking damages they say resulted from operations at the company’s former aircraft manufacturing plant.

Los Angeles attorney Patrick J. Grannan said his firm, Chimicles, Jacobsen & Tikellis, filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in response to the frustration of residents who discovered that 1,300 of their neighbors each got up to $300,000 in a privately mediated deal in which the company did not admit liability.

The federal lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in property damages and a medical monitoring system for early detection of illnesses that might be related to any toxic exposures from the plant.

Lockheed spokeswoman Maureen Curow said there was no indication from company officials Thursday that the new litigation would affect the settlement payments, which were to be made beginning Aug. 1 to the 1,300 residents.

The suit alleges negligence and violation of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, part of the Superfund cleanup law.

“A lot of residents feel betrayed by the fact their neighbors and Lockheed struck a secret deal, leaving them out in the cold,” Grannan said Thursday. “It seemed the class-action suit was the appropriate manner to recover proper damages.”

Lockheed officials have maintained that the 103-acre site, which was shut down in 1990 when the company moved to Marietta, Ga., and Palmdale, never posed a health risk to nearby residents. State officials have studied the area around the site, and have found no elevated incidents of cancer.

Company officials hadn’t seen the lawsuit Thursday, but Curow denied that the company violated any federal regulations.

“Lockheed at the time, and now, has always abided by the government’s environmental regulations in terms of its operations,” Curow said. “There was a time when those regulations weren’t as strict as they are today, and we’re dealing with that through our remediation program.”

The class-action lawsuit seeks to include “hundreds of thousands” of residents – or more than the entire Burbank population of about 100,000 – but excludes those who were part of the settlement. A federal judge ultimately will decide who will be included.

The lead plaintiffs are Marlene Hook and her neighbor Carmen Lacey, who both own homes in the 1300 block of Sparks Street, about 50 feet from the site, known as B-1.

Hook, who has lived on Sparks Street since 1977, said she tried to join the settlement group after learning about it from a neighbor, but was rejected because she’d waited too long.

“I feel betrayed by Lockheed because of the gag order,” Hook said. “I feel betrayed by (the residents’) attorneys. They should have made sure people down here were in on it.”

She’s concerned that her property values have suffered, and is worried about health problems in her family though she doesn’t know whether they’re related to air, soil and groundwater contamination at Lockheed. Hook said workers stirred up dust when they dismantled the plant, but never told her what they were doing or what was in the dust.

The class-action litigation by neighbors living near the plant, where military aircraft such as the P-38 World War II fighter and the commercial L-1011 were built, does not allege personal injury as a result of toxic chemical exposures, because the statute of limitation is generally a year from the time of the injury, Grannan said.

The Daily News on Aug. 4 reported details of the $60 million settlement with the 1,300 residents.

Sources told the paper that Lockheed was faced with dozens of cancers near the plant, which had a history of air emissions of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, and toxic solvents in the soil and groundwater. Lockheed insisted there was no link between the chemicals and any of the cancers, but feared a jury still might award high damages if the residents filed a lawsuit, they said.

The company’s insurers were to pay at least 80 people who had cancer illnesses or deaths in their families. The settlement also includes a medical monitoring program.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday also claims the monitoring is necessary, because plaintiffs “are at increased risk” of contracting serious diseases “including cancer,” from long-term exposure of hazardous substances used by Lockheed.

In particular, the lawsuit cites Lockheed’s air emissions of hexavalent chromium in its demand for the health monitoring program.

A survey required under the Air Toxics Hot Spots Information and Assessment Act of 1987 said the B-1 plant released 2.28 pounds of hexavalent chromium into the air in 1989, among 28 air toxics emitted from eight sources at the site. Lockheed was identified by the South Air Coast Air Quality Management District as among major contributors to the hottest spot in the San Fernando Valley.

“They weren’t dealing with the cleanup as carefully as they should,” Grannan said. “Where they kept the ball hidden was not letting people know the extent of the toxicity of the cleanup. My clients feel angry, somewhat betrayed and nervous about what the impact will be; whether they will have long-term health problems.”

Property damage also is alleged in the suit, the result of tearing down “high-asbestos content” buildings and as part of the company’s continuing cleanup of toxic solvents – among the chemicals used at the plant.

The company was ordered to clean up the toxics – including trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene, commonly known as TCEs and PCEs, respectively – as part of a federal Superfund site established to clean up toxic solvents found in the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin.

Lockheed is expected to pay the bulk of the $300 million that the Superfund groundwater cleanup in the East San Fernando Valley is anticipated to cost. Federal and state officials identified the company as the major source of the pollution, and named several dozen smaller responsible parties.

“Homeowners . . . were advised by the Burbank Board of Realtors that they would have to disclose the Lockheed contamination and cleanup to potential buyers,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, property values plummeted and many found that it was impossible to sell their property.”

Lockheed has modified its plan to clean up contaminated soil, reducing daily air emissions of TCEs and PCEs from 40 pounds a day to 9.8 pounds per day – a volume on the order of what a dry cleaners emits.

The lawsuit also claims homes were damaged by the dust and dirt that resulted from the demolition of a cluster of buildings and tool sheds at the B-1 site.

The plant was located just east of the Golden State Freeway and bounded by Buena Vista Street, Empire Avenue and Victory Place.

“Lockheed workers outfitted in orange biohazard uniforms and helmets shoveled contaminated soil from the contaminated B-1 site directly across from the class representatives homes,” the lawsuit says.

The mound of dirt was taller than the nearby homes, and was not sufficiently watered to keep dust from spreading, it alleges.

That allowed “so much dust to spread through the winds as to create thick layers of silt in the surrounding neighborhood homes. Screens became so soiled with the contaminated dust particles that they were no longer transparent and had to be removed from windows.”

“Area residents trying to paint the exterior of their homes found that it was impossible as a solid layer of contaminated soil would cover the coat of paint before it could dry. Residents’ interior curtains turned from white to brown. Additionally, the stench from the unearthed contaminant was so strong that it hurt to inhale.”

The lawsuit also alleges that residents noticed “strange funguses” growing on trees, and reported that even well-maintained plants inside and outside their homes died.