Community in Riverside demands cleanup of contaminated site

"My wife got cancer. I took care of her for 10 years and finally she just couldn't handle it anymore. She passed away," Gerardo Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez is one of dozens of neighbors who have had deaths or sickness in their family.

They blame contamination from a 62 acre site known as the "Ag park" in the Arlanza neighborhood of Riverside.

"My wife used to take my 4-year-old son sliding around in the dirt there," Gonzalez said. "Little did she know, she was playing on top of toxic soil with my kids."

Residents have complained for years the soil is riddled with cancer causing chemicals or PCBs.

The "Ag park" was a former military site and sewage dump that's now surrounded by homes.

"On my street is what started it. There's 11 cases of cancer out of nine homes, that's not a coincidence," Marilyn Whitney, Ag Park Families, said.

Whitney and her group Ag Park Families has been spearheading the effort to get the site cleaned up.

For the first time, the State Department of Toxic Substance Control plans to take soil samples from nearly 30 homes and Rutland Park to test for PCBs.

However, residents say the plan leaves out two nearby schools, including Norte Vista High School where Jennifer Williams attended.

"I was getting really sick and they didn't know why so my mom took me to the doctor and they discovered nodules and that it was cancerous," Williams said. "The doctor couldn't understand why because it's very rare for a 16-year-old to get thyroid cancer."

Williams and other neighbors met with lawyers Tuesday night about a possible class action lawsuit.

A lawyer with the Girardi Keese Law Firm, which is affiliated with environmental activist Erin Brokovich, attended the meeting.

Although it's unclear who would be named in the lawsuit, local attorney William Kennedy said there's enough evidence to hold multiple parties responsible.

"We've had people collecting information for 5 to 6 years it's time to stop collecting information and start doing something," Kennedy said.

The site is slated for a future housing development.

On Thursday March 23, officials with the Department of Toxic Substance Control are holding a public hearing for residents to get input about the plan to test soil samples at homes.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlanza Community Center, 7950 Philbin Ave., Riverside.

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