EL CAJON, Calif. – What started as just a concerned mother calling Dallas-based law firm Baron and Budd because her child’s elementary school popped up on a list of polluted schools turned into an investigation that revealed a California community is sitting on top of a toxic plume.
Residents and community members of El Cajon represented by Baron and Budd are suing Ametek, a nearby aerospace manufacturing firm, for the alleged effects a toxic plume of trichloroethylene or TCE caused by improper waste disposal.
“We started to do some investigation, and we started to uncover that this was, in fact, a massive TCE plume and that there was, in fact, documented vapor intrusion,” John Fiske, environment attorney for Baron and Budd representing many of the plaintiffs, told The Record.
The plume allegedly has been brewing under in the ground under a mobile home communities and Magnolia Elementary School since approximately the early 1960s. Community members are concerned because vapors from the TCE plume can seep through the soil from the contaminated groundwater and enter buildings and houses, exposing people to the toxic fumes.
After the discovery of the severity of the TCE plume, Magnolia Elementary School closed for part of the year, and Ametek had to pay to put in an air system that draws out vapors under classrooms.
“Ametek knew about the contamination when they abandoned the property in 1987, but they did nothing to clean up the groundwater,” Fiske said.
Ametek is facing four lawsuits calling for a better response to the effects of the plume including medical monitoring, remediation of the pollutant and air purification system. Initially, 19 mobile homes were tested for vapor intrusion after tests in the soil near the mobile home park revealed enough trichloroethylene to cause an investigation.
“After they did a round of testing of indoor air of the mobile home trailers themselves, they found two to be particularly high, like 2-3 times above the urgent action response level in California,” Fiske said.
Ametek did provide air purification systems for the homes that tested above the urgent action response level, as well as pay for the air system Magnolia Elementary school. While Fiske is grateful some measures have been taken, it is not nearly enough by his standards.
“We think more needs to be done,” Fiske said. “We think that every single trailer should be tested for vapor intrusion at least on top of the plume, if not throughout the entire mobile home park communities.”
One of the most recent lawsuits filed in June is suing Ametek for the wrongful death of a woman who lived in the mobile home park for 27 years. According to Fiske, the woman was a healthy woman who did not work with any chemicals and did not smoke or drink, but died of kidney cancer, which is cancer associated with TCE exposure.
“We're surprised that Ametek is choosing not to do the right thing for this community,” Fiske said.