Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Burbank News: Disney's Chromium 6 Pollution Problem

Just last night I re-watched on DVD the movie 'Erin Brockovich' (2000) with Julia Roberts which is based on the true story of a single mother who works for a lawyer and stumbles upon the coverup of PG&E water pollution.

Then I happened to see this article about Disney in Burbank - check it out as it doesn't sound good for the residents who live nearby!

Disney's Chromium 6 Pollution Problem
nowBuzz up!
By Steven Mikulan
Published: January 18, 2010

An environmental lawsuit against Walt Disney’s 50-acre Burbank film and TV production facility that has been quietly winding through federal court may soon be getting more attention -- and not just for its "Erin Brockovich" connections.

At the heart of the controversy is the alleged half-century of dumping by Disney of polluted air-conditioning water into storm drains surrounding its studio complex at 500 Buena Vista St. – affecting nearby homes, the Burbank Equestrian Center, Johnny Carson and Polliwog parks, and parts of Griffith Park.

The August 2009 federal lawsuit, filed by Environmental World Watch and several individuals who live near the Disney studios, alleges the discharge contained excessive levels of the carcinogens Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), as well as hexavalent chromium, more familiarly known to viewers of “Erin Brockovich” as Chromium 6.

A year after Disney opened its studio complex in 1939, the state-of-the-art facility boasted the then-uncommon luxury of air-conditioning. While the cooling water -- which was flushed through storm drains and into the L.A. River -- wasn’t toxic, various chemicals that were added to prevent scaling and rusting of its delivery-pipe system were. By the early 1990s the carcinogens were no longer being added to the water, and the coolant was no longer being flushed into the street.

However, the plaintiffs claim, residual amounts of the pollutants continue to be discharged through old contaminated pipes, even though Disney has no permits for such discharging, a violation of the Clean Water and Resource Conservation and Recovery acts.

According to a source familiar with the case who requested anonymity, the presence of TCE, PCE and Chromium 6 groundwater plumes only became known as a result of the construction of the nearby 134 Freeway, which was finished in 1971. As a result of this discovery, Disney laid a 16-inch pipe into which it now pumps the spent coolant underneath the studio lot into a catch basin. Lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking to learn if it continues to end up in the L.A. River.

The lawsuit could prove to be a financial and PR nightmare for Disney. A source familiar with the investigation told The Wrap that prior to 1991 Disney could claim ignorance of the pollution and could’ve gotten off with a relatively small cleanup fee. Now that the company knows of the problems, thanks to data from monitoring wells set up on its Buena Vista site in the early 1990s, it could theoretically be liable for staggering fines.

The lawsuit asks not only that Disney cease the discharge, but that it pay civil penalties on a per-violation/per-day basis – a potential headache, although even if it loses in court or settles before trial, it’s not certain how much Disney would actually wind up being on the hook for.

Documents show that the plaintiffs are not seeking a jury trial, but a bench decision in Los Angeles from U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson. John Parker, a Sacramento lawyer for the plaintiffs, says that while the trial is not expected to start before September, 2011, the phase of seeking discovery evidence is about to begin.

Last October the Disney Company asked Pregerson to dismiss the suit, but was unsuccessful. The suit is being spearheaded by the Sacramento law firm Kershaw Cutter & Ratinoff, and has been joined by L.A. firm Girardi & Keese, which figured in the Erin Brockovich case against utility PG&E. The company did not respond to The Wrap's requests for comment.

Last year a spokesman told the Burbank Leader that the company "has not used Chromium 6 on its property."


  1. So, it wasn't just Lockheed? There was a Class Action Lawsuit against Lockheed in the late 80s-early 90s because it was proved that what they had dumped into the water caused large amounts of Reptoductive illnesses and cancers in we women who grew up in Burbank in the 60s and 70s.