Fight Grows Against Toxic LAUSD Elementary Schools
Daily news reports explore police and political efforts to stem gang and racial violence in Los Angeles schools. The media, meanwhile, has been nearly silent about another killer stalking LAUSD students and teachers: Factories spewing toxic substances into surrounding neighborhoods, often for decades. The results have been disastrous.
The law firm's Workers' Compensation and Personal Injury attorneys are working with United Teachers Los Angeles and community organizations at LAUSD schools in Carson, Wilmington and Central L.A. The firm is handling Workers' Comp cases for District employees' on-the-job injuries and P.I. cases against the toxic polluters.
Del Amo Elementary
Attorney David Goldstein is representing 16 teachers at Del Amo Elementary in Carson. Complaints include muscle spasms, numbness, blurred vision, difficulty sleeping, drifting mental focus, blurry vision, frequent sore throats and coughing, stomach cramps, nausea and fatigue.
Goldstein points to a truck-cleaning company next to the school as the probable source of the toxic contamination. Rainbow Transport Tank Cleaners both removed hazardous wastes from their customers' trucks and used powerful solvents to clean the tanks. Noxious smells routinely waft across a fence over the school's playground. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has ordered Rainbow to identify and clean up contaminated soil to about 20 feet and groundwater below 20 feet.
"There's no doubt that you're in a toxic war zone," Goldstein recently told a packed meeting in the school's faculty lounge.
Under Workers' Comp law, limited benefits are paid if an employee can prove they were injured at work, regardless of fault. Benefits can include medical care for the injuries. Although the affected teachers are still working, they are concerned about payment for treatment that may become necessary in the future.
"We're teachers, and that means we're here whether or not we feel well," said Toye Davis-Bradshaw. "We're like soldiers. We show up even when we don't feel well because we're committed to our kids and education."
Gulf Avenue Elementary
Attorney Vincent Vallin Bennett has filed Personal Injury lawsuits on behalf of five babies born to teachers at Gulf Avenue Elementary in Wilmington. All were born with rare cardiovascular defects, including pulmonary valvular stenosis and tri-cuspid atresia.
"One has had a heart transplant, and all have required surgery," said Jeanne Contreras, who chairs the teachers' union chapter at Gulf Avenue. "Also, one baby whose father taught at Gulf for five years was born with major seizures, and at least four pregnant teachers have had miscarriages."
Contreras and others suspected the birth defects were linked to the vast network of petrochemical plants and pipelines crisscrossing the Harbor area. But Bennett identified the source of the problem as something that could affect any LAUSD school: pesticides, herbicides and rat poisons.
28th Street Elementary
Legal action also continues moving forward on behalf of dozens of teachers, students and neighbors of 28th Street Elementary against Palace Plating, a metal-plating factory across the street from the central Los Angeles campus.
The L.A. County Superior Court has assigned the case to Judge Emilie Elias, an experienced and knowledgeable trial jurist. "This means that the relatively complicated legal and medical issues we are presenting will get the time and attention they deserve," said lead attorney Roger Gordon.
Judge Elias ordered Palace Plating to disclose the names of the companies that manufactured the toxic chemicals identified by the 28th Street plaintiffs in their complaint. Topping the list is Chromium 6, a particularly hazardous chemical that has been well documented to cause cancer in humans.
Gordon and Bennett are coordinating legal strategies at 28th Street with ACORN. The Vice President of ACORN's Los Angeles chapter, Marta Sanchez, said the fight for environmental justice - like the civil rights and women's movements - brings together diverse community stakeholders, from people and organizations to government agencies.
"ACORN believes in defending our rights in court," said Sanchez, who is also the mother of a 28th Street student, "but this fight will mainly be won in the streets. That will require strong community leadership. Neighbors will learn about the issues and get more involved as they hear about other people's efforts. Together, we can build meaningful grassroots partnerships for a stronger voice."
On another legal front, Palace Plating was recently fined $125,000 for illegally disposing hazardous waste.