More than 400 people have filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County and Exxon Mobil Inc.,claiming exposure to toxins caused at least 38 deaths and a variety of medical problems at a shuttered housing complex.
The lawsuit filed Friday by former residents and their survivors blames toxic soil and vapors for cancers,miscarriages,rashes,asthma and other problems among residents of the county-owned Ujima Village in Willowbrook.
The 300-unit complex was closed by the county in 2008. It was built in 1972 on a former oil tank storage site.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages to compensate for back rent,injuries,medical costs and what were alleged to be wrongful deaths.
Elisa Vasquez,a spokeswoman for the county Housing Authority,said Tuesday she had no immediate comment.
Gas and oil contamination was discovered underground,but Exxon Mobil said no immediate public health threat was found by state and local regulators.
In a statement,the company said it learned of the potential concern with soil conditions in 2007 and has since been working with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and other state and local agencies to conduct an extensive environmental investigation.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and their families said their clients were never told they were living on contaminated property. “They weren’t advised that testing showed topsoil and vapors coming from the soil were hazardous to them,” lawyer Jeff Coyner said.
The complex was built by a group of architects and developers who dubbed it Ujima – a Swahili term meaning collective work and responsibility.
The complex was taken over by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1990 after decades of mismanagement. The county purchased it five years later then tried to sell it while facing $20 million in renovations.