More than 400 people, former residents of the county-owned Ujima Village housing complex in Willowbrook, California, and their survivors, have sued Los Angeles County, the site’s developers, and a former property owner, Exxon-Mobil, contending that they were exposed to toxins while evidence of hazards was concealed. In a civil lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the Plaintiffs allege that contamination at the 300-unit complex built on a former oil tank storage site caused cancer, leukemia, miscarriages, respiratory distress, chronic infections, asthma, anemia and cognitive and neurological issues. They are seeking damages to compensate for back rent, injuries, medical costs and for the wrongful deaths of at least 38 former residents.

ExxonMobil officials said in a statement that they were first informed of “potential concerns with soil conditions” at Ujima in 2007 and have since been working with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and other state and local agencies to conduct an extensive environmental investigation. The Ujima families contend their clients were kept in the dark about the hazards. The Plaintiffs say they didn’t know that the County was renting them contaminated properties. They contended that actual testing that showed hazardous topsoil and vapors coming from the soil were was withheld.

Ujima Village was built in 1972 by a group of architects and developers. In Swahili ujima means “collective work and responsibility.” After decades of mismanagement and dilapidation, the complex was taken over in 1990 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Los Angeles County purchased it five years later for only one dollar. With $20 million in renovations needed by 2004, the County tried to sell the property. Developers discovered gas and crude oil contamination and by 2008 the California Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the County Housing Authority and Exxon to test and clean up the site. In November 2008, Los Angeles County supervisors voted to close the complex and relocate remaining tenants.

Source: New York Times

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