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State Sues BP Over Hazardous Waste at Arco Gas Stations

BP is accused of environmental violations at more than 780 gas stations in California. However, the former ARCO station in Seal Beach is not named in the suit despite decades of toxic contamination leaking into the community.

A lawsuit filed by the state of California accusing the oil company BP of failing to maintain or inspect underground gasoline storage tanks at more than 780 stations around the state has caught the attention of Seal Beach officials.

Despite decades of fuel leaks, three home evacuations and an a contentious ongoing cleanup process surrounding the contaminated the Seal Beach site is not listed in the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Friday. However, the suit is filed on behalf of all California residents

Representatives for the attorney general did not return calls for comment regarding the lawsuit’s omission of the Seal Beach site. However, Seal Beach officials will be looking into the case, said City Engineer Michael Ho.

“Safe storage of gasoline is not only common sense, it is essential to protecting the integrity of California’s groundwater resources,” a press release quoted Harris as saying. “California’s hazardous waste laws safeguard public health and this lawsuit ensures proper maintenance of the tanks that store fuel beneath California’s communities.”

Harris' lawsuit also alleges violations at ARCO stations in Huntington Beach and Garden Grove. The lawsuit follows an investigation that found violations at BP-owned stations in 37 counties around the state, according to the press release.

"The complaint alleges that the defendants tampered with or disabled leak detection devices, and failed to test secondary containment systems, conduct monthly inspections, train employees in proper protocol, and maintain operational alarm systems, among other violations," the release states. "The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants improperly handled and disposed of hazardous wastes and materials associated with the underground storage tanks at retail gas stations throughout the state."

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties from BP, but doesn't list a specific dollar amount.

The Arco station clean-up in Seal Beach is still going on. 

The whole process "could take up to two years," said Ho. "There's no real timeline.”

Ho said he still gets one or two calls a week from residents about the cleanup.

“The public is not happy there,” Ho said. “They want (Arco) to hurry up and get things done. They want Arco to hurry up and clean it up. ... Their point of view is 'just get this done and over with as quick as possible.'" 

"Our observation is that Arco is just going to do the bare minimum," Ho said. "They're not going to go above and beyond what's required. They're doing what they're told." 

The station was completely demolished in 2011.

Multiple gas tank leaks spanning decades spilled gasoline into the soil, and tests found that the spill was 'off-gassing’ benzene, a known carcinogen linked to leukemia, into people’s homes. Three homes were evacuated and treated in 2010 to stem the flow of hazardous gases into the homes. Arco purchased the house closest to the former gas station. The residents were able to return home, but underground vapor extraction systems have been necessary to keep the air inside the homes safe for residents.

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