The Toxic World of Disney

9 Apr

The wonderful world of Disney, a childhood icon for millions of fans young and old, is embroiled in a not-so-wonderful environmental lawsuit against its Buena Park facility, located only 35 miles away from the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Ca.

Plaintiffs Lorraine Baptist, Diane Charles and Debra Rendon, residents of a Burbank community near the facility, are suing the Walt Disney Corporation for allegedly contaminating the groundwater of the neighborhood by dumping toxic wastewater laden with the poisonous hexavalent chromium, which at certain levels can lead to the development of malignant tumors, according to a two year study by the National Toxicology Program.

The exposure to chromium allegedly caused the death of Burbank resident Louis Jackson, a wife and mother of two, according to the plaintiffs, as well as caused illnesses among other residents and pets.

The Buena Vista facility, a television and film production site built in 1939, had on-site cooling systems and allegedly allowed them to leak polluted water into the surrounding land.  The lawsuit alleges that the dangerous waste water containing carcinogens had been released by the Buena Vista facility via pipes for decades, flowing into the property owned by the plaintiffs and passing into drinking water sources.

The lawyers of the plaintiffs, described the acts of the defendants in the lawsuit as “willful, wanton and despicable, carried out with conscious and/or reckless disregard of Plaintiff’s rights and well-being and continues to subject Plaintiffs to cruel and unjust hardship.”

Sacramento law firm, Kershaw, Cutter and Ratinoff LLP, is litigating the case of the plaintiff and has been joined by the firm of Girardi and Keese, LLP. The case smacks eerily of the famous Erin Brockovich case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a suit that also involved the deleterious chromium six and that was also litigated by the Girardi and Keese law firm.

The plaintiffs filed complaints against Walt Disney, citing numerous damages including causing permanent and continuing nuisance, causing special injury to residents, being liable for “ultra-hazardous” activity, negligence and attempted concealment through fraudulence.

The Burbank residents involved in the suit state they did not discover until 2009 that Disney had added dangerous chromium compounds to the cooling system of the facility, until the watchdog group, Environmental World Watch, took water samples from the area and found significant quantities of chromium six.

The plaintiffs filed the exhaustive complaint of damages in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2009, and the case had its first hearing February of 2010 despite the defendants’ request to the judge that the case be thrown out. The judge decided there was sufficient evidence for the case to move forward, and the next hearing will take place on May 5.

Disney denies all of the allegations and states its Buena Park facility, which was behind the animation of classics such as Cinderella, Aladdin and Bambi, has never used chromium six in its cooling system, a chemical banned by the 1990 Toxic Substances Control Act.

The Disney legal team is also prepared to argue that the statue of limitations for this claim, which is three years, prevents the plaintiffs from pursuing a lawsuit. However, according to the lawyers of the victims, the statue of limitations is suspended when a “defendant fraudulently conceals the existence of facts giving rise to the claim.” The plaintiffs aim to prove that Disney not only knew about the cancer-causing chromium waste water, but attempted to hide it from “the government and the surrounding community through false statements and omission regarding their wrong acts.”

The plaintiffs are demanding that Disney give them compensation for all past and future medical care since many of these costs would not be covered by their insurance. They also seek compensation for the decrease in value to their property and any loss of income they may have suffered due to contamination-related illnesses.

No one from the legal teams of the plaintiffs could be reached for comment, and the Disney Corporation declined the request for an interview.

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