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Illnesses come to light in claims

Residents cite cancer, diseases in animals as proof of chromium 6 contamination.

June 17, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

BURBANK — As their attorneys shuffle between four similar lawsuits that allege the Walt Disney Co. has for decades contaminated groundwater with cancer-causing chromium 6 and other toxic chemicals, stories of ill health from the plaintiffs are beginning to emerge.

In the latest lawsuit, filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court by the Sacramento-based firm Kershaw Cutter & Ratinoff LLP on behalf of 16 people with strong ties to the Rancho District, the plaintiffs claim Disney dumped wastewater contaminated with hexavalent chromium from its on-site cooling systems down the centerline of Parkside Avenue, toward Parish Place and across Riverside Drive into the so-called Polliwog, an 11-acre parcel near the studio’s Imagineering facilities.

“The water, without warning, would rush down like a flood,” said resident Bob Bell, who in 1945 paid $25,000 for his home at the corner of Parkside Avenue. “Water hopped the curb and flooded the streets for hours on end.”

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While Bell is not part of the lawsuit, plaintiffs first became aware of the alleged toxic contaminants, including chromium 6, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, in February, after a representative of Environmental World Watch revealed results of an ongoing soil investigation. Plaintiff Sue Panuska said she has long suspected contamination.

“We live in one of the most beautiful areas of Los Angeles in a neighborhood that has come to be known as the city’s best-kept secret,” said Panuska, one of 16 residents who joined the June 9 lawsuit. “But contamination of the Polliwog has been the neighborhood’s dirty little secret. We’re hoping that because Disney created this carnage, that they will come forward and clean it up.”

Panuska is one of a handful of residents who fiercely opposed a planned sewer project by the city of Los Angeles. At the time, she spearheaded a neighborhood effort to raise $5,000 to test for toxic chemicals as part of a challenge to the draft environmental impact report.

Standing at the intersection of Parkside Avenue and Parish Place, Panuska gestured down several neighboring streets, pointing out the homes whose residents she said were diagnosed with various cancers, and listing off dozens of cases where horses, dogs and cats came down with various maladies.

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