Chemical explosions: Santa Clara Waste
Water suing insurer for $7 million

January 07, 2015
Santa Paula News

Santa Clara Waste Water is suing its insurer for $7 million to cover the costs associated with a series of chemical explosions and fires that started on the early morning of November 18 at the facility located west of Santa Paula.

The company also names 805 Trucking in the lawsuit filed on behalf of SCWW by Richard C. Giller of Polsinelli LLP in Los Angeles, which alleges a truck owned by the Oxnard-based company was the one that initially exploded at 3:45 a.m. 

In recent weeks Ventura County officials stated the vehicle that exploded was a SCWW vacuum truck. 

The initial explosion and fire and those thereafter sent more than 50 people to local hospitals seeking treatment for symptoms believed to be related to exposure to unknown chemicals. Three Santa Paula Firefighters remain on medical leave.

Santa Clara Waste Water claims in the lawsuit, filed December 23 in Ventura County Superior Court, that it’s insurer, Allied World Assurance, refused to pay costs related to the incident and Patriot Environmental Services, hired for the cleanup by SCWW, threatened to stop work due to the unpaid bill.

According to the Ventura County Environmental Health (VCEH) website work did stop at the site two days before the lawsuit was filed.

According to the VCEH posted statement of December 22, “With the main spill completely contained and mostly solidified, site activities were shut down on December 21st and will resume on December 29th.

“The site will maintain 24-hour security during the shutdown,” the county noted.

Sampling of the totes, tanks, and containers on site was completed on December 19: VCEH posted, “The contents of all containers are to be verified using a multi-step process involving available known inventory, field observations, field testing, and laboratory analysis.”

Laboratory analysis is one thing that has failed to identify exactly what exploded, crystallized and exploded again. Initially labs refused to test the material due to its volatility and now results are non-conclusive due to the fire, subsequent rains and passage of time.

Santa Clara Waste Water’s lawsuit claims that a criminal investigation being conducted by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office as well as fire losses have limited the availability of SCWW documents requested by the insurer. 

The District Attorney’s Office also seized computers, cell phones, and records from the SCWW facility and searched an offsite storage area as part of its criminal investigation, which the lawsuit claims Allied is using to deny coverage of the claim.

The lawsuit alleges that Allied is aware that the documents it has requested are not available, a situation beyond the control of SCWW.

The lawsuit seeks payment by Allied of all of the damages from the explosion and fire up to and including the policy limits of $7 million, a formal declaration that 805 Trucking is liable for damages, and general and punitive damages related to the cause of action.

The explosions and fires at Santa Clara Waste Water created what could be described as a countywide disposal emergency: Anterra is no longer allowed to take added loads of oil field wastes to its facility in Oxnard - just one of the approximately 100 waste streams accepted by SCWW - and Santa Paula has taken proactive steps to protect manholes from illegal dumping of hazardous waste.

A county official stated in recent weeks SCWW customers are being contacted about the availability of alternate dump sites, none of which are in Ventura County.

Santa Clara Waste Water has other woes: Oxnard pulled its permit letting the company dispose of its wastes at the city’s treatment plant after numerous incidents of finding evidence of radioactive material. SCWW transports the waste from its facility in Santa Paula through a 12-mile pipeline that connects to Oxnard; the city noted in the letter that not only was the permit pulled but also that the waste intake valve had been shutdown.

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