Woman’s Death After Chemical Spill Leads to Search for Answers

Joye Goodwin-1Published Feb. 10, 2010 by San Diego News Network (SDNN.com).

Joye Goodwin moved to Valley Center to retire with her daughter Hope two decades ago. Before that, she was a nurse for more than 40 years and founder of Children Having Children, a non-profit assisting parents 13 to 24-years-old reach for life beyond parenthood in southeast San Diego.

Since moving there, together the two raised championship horses and Great Danes, grew dozens of organic fruits and vegetables and were about to go into the business of farming organic garlic and Sea buckthorn.

But on Nov. 16, 2006 an EDCO garbage truck lifting a dumpster in their back yard ruptured a hydraulic line, spraying between 15 to 36 gallons (actual amount is disputed by both sides) of hydraulic fluid on to the ground, into the air and across the property.

Joye, who was gardening outside and already had trouble breathing, may have inhaled some of the fluid.

“We could smell the fumes in the house for weeks,” Hope said.

Since then, the mature Cottonwood trees near the spill died, as did fruit trees and crops planted in the ground further away. The Ice Man, a 23-year-old Irish bred Thoroughbred, had to be put down. Alraune, a German bred Holsteiner, may have cancer. Another horse lost 300 lbs. Hope said.

Then this spring, her health deteriorated, Joye died in the morning hours of the first day of spring.

“All we wanted them to do in the beginning was to clean up and put things back the way they were.”

Hope wants to leave the property but claims no realtor will list it and is now in a lawsuit against EDCO set to go to trial in March for the depletion in property value and emotional damages for allegedly failing to finish necessary cleanups.

The ingredients of the fluid were never learned from EDCO and so Hope still doesn’t know exactly what was in the potentially toxic hydraulic fluid she, her mother, the plants and animals were exposed to.

After the spill occurred, an EDCO cleanup crew came to the house and worked two hours that afternoon and six the next day.

In all,  400 pounds of contaminated soil was removed from the property, EDCO vice president Jeff Ritchie said in an e-mail. EDCO contends alleged depletion of property value to be without merit, he said.

Soil was removed within a 20 ft. radius of the spill and oil absorbent rags were placed on the brick patio, said director of fleet maintenance Garth Nogalez.

Arrangements were made for an additional cleanup the morning of Nov. 22 but EDCO employees said Hope wasn’t cooperative.

That day she had a doctor’s appointment and to bring the dogs to the veterinarian and didn’t want a cleanup done without one of the owners there to see it. But she cancelled her appointments and called the Valley Center Fire Department to supervise a third cleanup.

“My impression was that they went – the EDCO employees – went above and beyond as far as clean up is concerned,” Captain Saul Villa Gomez said in a deposition.

Though a report was filed by the VCFD, Captain Gomez nor anyone at the scene had any particular experience with hydraulic fluid or petroleum hydrocarbons, Hope’s lawyer Mark Plummer said.

“He wouldn’t know a toxic chemical if he fell over it so his opinion is meaningless due to a complete lack of training in the field,” he said.

An offer was made for remaining cleanup to be done by an EDCO employee but Hope and her mother declined.

“It seemed as though as soon as I told her a professional was coming out there, she did not want us to do the cleanup,” said Kelly Roe, an EDCO interim safety director.

Especially after he told them he “had been up all night doing his homework,” they didn’t trust his qualifications and wanted a neutral professional to finish cleanups.

On Dec. 1, EDCO took gardening tools, furniture and personal items contaminated with the oil.

The Goodwins sent letters the next day and Dec. 13 asking for more cleanup and requesting immediate action to assure the survival and recovery of exposed people, plants and animals.

Safety director Lupe Ruiz, who supervised the second and third cleanup told the Goodwins, Hope claims, agreed that EDCO would have a company come clean or replace brick patio and the remaining contaminated soil.

Garth Nogalez, deemed the most knowledgeable person in the company in the subject, said a licensed arborist would come inspect trees sprayed by the fluid.Joye Goodwin-1-2

Joye Goodwin-1-2

Instead, they were told to consult their homeowner’s insurance about any further cleanup efforts.

Soil analysis ordered by EDCO and performed by Bryant Geoenvironmental in spring 2007 said further investigation was needed but recommended additional removal and testing, “which EDCO contends it attempted to do, but those efforts were rejected by Ms. Goodwin,” he said, which Hope denies.

An estimate requested by the Goodwins and carried out by Advanced Cleanup Technologies in Oct. 2008 said a more extensive cleanup, including the removal of the brick patio and allegedly impacted portions of roof tiles and windows, will cost more than $175,000.

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Goodwins claims none of EDCO employees, including Lupe Ruiz and Garth Nogalez, who supervised the Nov. 22 cleanup, had any specific knowledge or training on how to properly clean up hydraulic fluid. No consideration was made of oil which may have seeped underneath the brick patio or spread further from the direct site of the spill.

As the back and forth continued, Joye’s health got worse. Dr. Karen Ziolo, a pulmonary specialist and one of several doctors she went to see after the accident, suggested they leave their home for a hotel, which they did for the two weeks they could afford it.

“Within a week or so of being back, she couldn’t breathe again. She was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital,” Hope said.

Her symptoms were consistent with exposure to neurotoxins but also to old age, Hope’s lawyer Mark Plummer said. With pre-existing conditions and without knowing what is in the mixture, it can’t be conclusively proven the oil had anything to do with her death.

“Hydraulic fluid doesn’t generally make the grade for toxic things but can be especially bad when you’re already a mess,” Plummer said.

According to Dr. Dan Harper, Joye’s pre-existing conditions included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD from smoking cigarettes, colon cancer 10 years ago, a heart attack and reactive airways disease as a child.

“If we knew what the ingredients were then we would be able to go back and figure it out.”

All hydraulic fluids are not created equal, Plummer said. Ingredients depend on where and when it was manufactured.

“If they had barrel number, Chevron could tell us,” he said but “EDCO refused to give us an example and now claim they don’t have a viable sample,” he said. 

“It’s a legal inference that when someone has control of evidence and loses or destroys it,” Plummer said, there’s something to hide.

No investigation is currently being sought by San Diego Environmental Services, who typically oversee the cleanup of hazardous waste and are a southern California arm of the California EPA.

A 1989 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) document listed the fluid as made up of 11 different hydrocarbons or hydrocarbons, two deemed toxic: paraffinic, which may cause cancer and napthenic, which may be poisonous to the nervous system or cause brain damage. Any part of those 11 ingredients make up 99 percent of the fluid, the document said.

The presence of these two hydrocarbons prompted John Anderson, senior engineering geologist for the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, to request EDCO do an additional cleanup and test the soil and water for contamination levels in a May 2007 letter.

Anderson cited the 1989 document and unpublished studies of paraffinic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and American Petroleum Institute, as having the ability to cause “dermal sensitization, chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity” or the ability to cause cancer, the letter said.

A profile of petroleum hydrocarbons by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control said some compounds can affect the central nervous system, skin and eyes as well as the “blood, immune system, liver, spleen, kidneys, developing fetuses and lungs.”

Joye Goodwin-1-2

The WQCB, also a sister agency of the California EPA, was exclusively concerned with potential water contamination, Anderson said in a fall 2008 deposition, and expressed concern for a well on the Goodwin’s property that reportedly goes 10 ft. deep and the neighbor’s that goes 3 ft. deep.

Anderson declined to be interviewed for the story because of continuing legal action.

He took on the case, he said, as a courtesy to the Goodwins. No samples of the oil were requested from EDCO and no visits were made by WQCB officials to the Goodwin residence.

“It was never really an official case, to be quite honest about it,” Anderson said. Instead, it was “kind of a follow-up to a complaint rather than an ongoing case that needed to be solved.”

The cleanup was requested, not demanded, because that would be “an ultraconservative approach to dealing with the matter,” Anderson said.

“I didn’t think it was necessary. But as a good neighbor policy for dealing with the issue at hand, it would be, perhaps, going the extra mile to remove these soils.”

Though the initial letter claimed parts of the oil to be potentially cancerous or damaging to the nervous system or the brain, the recommended cleanup was revoked a year later by WQCB executive officer John Robertus, two days before a trial was set to begin, stating the agency was no longer concerned with water contamination.

“The no further action letter does not address the issue of whether the property represents a danger of toxic exposure to humans,” Robertus’ letter said.

“The Regional Board’s investigation in this matter focused solely on the potential for significant impacts to water quality.”

Soil samples taken in Sept. 2008 had similar finding to tests done a year prior by Bryant Geoenvironmental, Plummer said, which initially motivated the WQCB to request more cleanup.

Results are pending of a third soil analysis done two weeks ago by mortgage owner Deutsche Bank, also a party to the lawsuit, since the Goodwins, adamant to move, stopped paying their mortgage.

Anderson and the WQCB were made party to a lawsuit the Goodwin’s filed against EDCO but were declared immune and dismissed from case this August by a North County court since neither the government nor its employees can be considered liable for statements made in connection to pending investigations.

It’s illegal to sell property deemed toxic in the state of California. The land hasn’t been deemed toxic and Anderson offered to issue a letter saying no further action is necessary but Hope said, no realtor will list it. letter, they claim, and the fact that the property was never properly cleaned by EDCO, no realtor will list it.

“They wouldn’t touch it.”

“Once you clean it up well be happy to help you out.”

Blayne Hartman has visited the Goodwin home, walked the property with Hope and conducted a soil sample analysis at her request in Sept. 2008. Hartman is a nationally recognized expert in soil sampling who has provided training to county and state agencies in more than 30 states and was co-founder and principal geochemist for H&P Mobile Geochemistry before starting his own firm.

“The aerial extent of the claimed contamination was minimal,” he said, adding that he didn’t find a risk to human health and called trying to prove an impact to the Goodwin’s health “a long shot.” It can’t be definitively concluded that high hydrocarbon levels found in tests were from the amount of organic matter in the pesticide-free soil or from hydraulic fluid.

The key to both analyses, he said, is that no volatile organic compounds or VOC’s were detected. total carbon levels

“The VOCs are the compounds that are a risk to human health, not the TRPH” or total recoverable petroleum hydrocarbons.

“The only way TRPH might be a health risk is if you ate the soil.”

Hope and Joy are chemically sensitive said Dr. Dan Harper, meaning they have a genetic mis-link or predisposition that makes them especially sensitive to chemicals. People can be chemically sensitive just like they can have allergies, he said.

“80 percent of the world could handle it just fine. You expose them to this harsh a chemical and they’re doomed,” he said.

“If you take a detailed history and how they were before and after, that’s how you start building a case for chemical sensitivity.”

Dr. Harper is certified by nationally recognized boards to practice holistic and family medicine, is eligible for certification from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and has 35,000 hours of emergency room experience. One of several doctors Joye visited after the accident, Dr. Harper examined Joye five times, most recently less than six months before her death.

“I mean this lady was square dancing a month before the accident,” he said. Afterward “she could not finish a complete sentence at times, she was afraid, very paranoid.”

“She wasn’t crazy. The paranoia she was having was coming from the chemical exposure,” he said.

Over the time he saw her, Dr. Harper said Joye had a stroke and several mini strokes, an abdominal aneurism, a drop in her white blood cell count, declining liver function, blood clots in her legs which never happened before, a lung infection and chronic bronchitis.

“When you get to be 84, 85 yrs. old, theres a lot of water under the bridge. But here was a lady that was functioning and taking her of sick daughter when this happened.”

At the time of accident, Hope was bedridden after surgery for a hernia.

After the spill, Dr. Harper said, Hope had dermatitis as well as brain fog or short term memory loss.

“I’ve had parts of my body that haven’t stopped itching since the spill,” Hope said.

“There is no way they are able to recover as long as they are on that land,” Dr. Harper said.

As for other alleged damages from the fluid, Dr. Richard Tramp, who euthanized The Ice Man, the 23-year-old Irish Thoroughbred said it’s not uncommon for a horse to get cancer at that age. Tramp was not the Ice Man’s veterinarian before the incident and since no tests were performed, no conclusions can be drawn to the cause of his death, he said.

Two other horses, Alraune and Very Nice Filly, may have to be put down in early 2010, Hope said.

“That more than one horse with health conditions is certainly irregular but we don’t have any proof,” lawyer Mark Plummer said.

Bret Hutchinson was contacted by the Goodwins to move the large Cottonwood trees in Dec. 2006 and again in the summer 2007. He now plants trees but spent seven years working for Mobile One Labs now Air One Labs in Carlsbad collecting soil, water and air samples and has a degree in toxicology from UC Davis.

The soil “felt oily from saturation from hydraulic fluid,” he said. The roots of the trees had black sandy soil.” He could see a stain in the bark of some trees eight to ten feet up the side of the tree.

“The tree hadn’t died yet. They were still dormant when I came out in the middle of the winter. I came out in the summer again for the possibility of transplanting trees to a new house and at that time a couple of trees had died.”

Today six of the seven Cottonwood trees are dead.

A summary judgement in the case is in the works, Plummer said, where EDCO would pay Deutsche Bank the necessary amount to finish cleanups and Hope would be able to move out after being paid for lost equity.

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