The case began in 2000, when residents of Encanto and Lemon Grove, California, living within 500 feet of a gas pipe demolitions site, received letters from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) notifying them of the presence of asbestos at the site.
In September of that year, SDG&E expanded the “unsafe” zone to 1,000 feet, but continued to insist that pre-inspections by various county and municipal agencies deemed the work no threat to health and safety.
The pipe demolition work led to a federal grand jury trial in 2006, with residents charging the utility, project manager Kyle Rhuebottom, and two Sempra entities with violating the Clean Air Act under NESHAP (National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants) regulations. Sempra Energy is the gas delivery portion of SDG&E’s utility operations.
Called a “Proposition 65″ case (the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986), the grand jury ruled that the entities named had failed to properly warn residents of the asbestos hazards at the Encanto Gas Holder site from 2000 to the date the case was dismissed.
Asbestos, a fibrous mineral used widely during most the last century as insulation for buildings, boiler pipes and the like, emits – when broken – microscopic fibers that can be inhaled or ingested merely by swallowing saliva.
Once inside the body, these minute fibers irritate tissue, causing lesions which can lead to mesothelioma, a cancer of the mesothelial linings around the lungs (pleural), heart (pericardial) and abdomen (peritoneal).
Of these, pleural mesothelioma is the most common, occurring in three-fourths of cases. Because of its long dormancy period (up to five decades), and initially insignificant symptoms, by the time pleural mesothelioma is diagnosed it has caused a lot of damage, and doctors usually give patients less than two years to live.
Additionally, rates of exposure are not linked to causation or severity; a single exposure, or a lifetime’s exposure, can cause mesothelioma.
Asbestos-containing pipe wrap from the Encanto site tested at 5- to 10-percent chrysotile asbestos (for the 1953 sample). A second sample, from 1955, showed asbestos content in the 40- to 50-percent range. SDG&E’s own sample, as tested by a laboratory, showed 50- to 60-percent asbestos.
Since 2001, Chollas Creek in the Encanto Gas Holder site has displayed a white coating after storm-water runoff – a coating residents are convinced contains asbestos fibers which can seriously impact their future health.
In spite of that, 27 pieces of evidence, including the asbestos testing portion of the case, were ruled inadmissible, irrelevant or irregular by Judge Dana M. Sabraw in District Court. As a result, this newest trial, United States of America v. SDG&E, has been dismissed.
The trial, scheduled for November 20 at the Hall of Justice Department C-60 (Sacramento), has been removed from the calendar, leaving plaintiffs to wonder if all the thanks given them by local U.S. Department of Justice attorney Melanie Pierson, and Judge Yuri Hofmann, are merely a polite brush-off from a legal system that seems to favor corporations over people when it comes to the legacy of asbestos disease.
Source: San Diego Reader