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Disney lawsuit still on docket

Judge denies company’s motion to dismiss claims that soil on site has dangerous chromium levels, affecting the water.

October 24, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

MEDIA DISTRICT — A federal judge in Los Angeles refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. of polluting the surrounding area with chromium 6.

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson on Monday denied the company’s motion to dismiss the claims of Environmental World Watch and four residents who contend that the contamination violates the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Disney officials have denied all of the charges levied in the lawsuits, citing a soil investigation by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control conducted in October 2006 that found chromium levels in the area “below levels of concern” and well within California and Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

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Spokesman Jonathan Friedland said Disney has not used chromium 6 on its property, adding that the judge’s ruling dealt with technicalities rather than the merits of the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs allege that for decades Disney pumped groundwater for its air-cooling system, added chemical compounds, and then discharged the contaminated water through “well-water disposal lines” and pipes.

Contaminated wastewater allegedly traveled through three pipes and emptied into the street at the intersection of Keystone Street and Parkside Avenue, polluting the aquifer below Los Angeles-owned Polliwog Park.

The three pipes were connected to a Burbank storm drain running under the intersection and emptied into the Los Angeles River, according to the lawsuit.

Plaintiff attorneys claim soil tests found hexavalent chromium contamination at a depth of 25 feet, threatening underground drinking-water supplies. Water samples at the point of discharge revealed levels of chromium 6 that exceed California’s water-quality standards, according to the complaint.

Disney continued to dump chromium 6 even after the EPA banned its use in air-cooling systems in 1990, the lawsuit states.

C. Brooks Cutter, attorney for the plaintiffs, also filed similar cases in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of Environmental World Watch and several residents. Those in the area have long maintained that cancer-causing toxins have led to the deaths of dogs, horses and some residents.

Cutter was joined last week by the Los Angeles firm Girardi & Keese, known for its involvement in the Erin Brockovich case. He declined to comment on the cases.

Attorneys for Disney had sought to dismiss the case, arguing in court that “the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act causes of action should be dismissed because plaintiffs fail to identify a hazardous waste . . . and fail to describe where and when the hazardous waste allegedly was disposed in the last five years,” according to court records.

But Pregerson allowed the case to stand because it involves federal claims as well as plaintiffs who were not part of the other lawsuits, some of which were eventually dismissed in Superior Court.


 CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO covers City Hall and the courts. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at christopher.cadelago@ latimes.com.

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