Monday, November 13, 2006


Local teen files lawsuit over cancer

A Santa Maria teen is the latest resident in the Sunrise Hills neighborhood to file suit against oil companies for environmental contamination there resulting from years of oil production in the area.

Scott Chenoweth, 18, filed suit Thursday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court against six oil companies, claiming his diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia was the result of living in a neighborhood contaminated by past oil drilling.

The suit filed Thursday claims that officials with Unocal, Union Oil Company, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Kerr-McGee, and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation failed to properly decommission the site and that their negligence allowed the contamination of the Sunrise Hills neighborhood, which was built after oil production ceased.

Chenoweth, who was diagnosed in July, has lived at 750 Raintree Drive all of his life, the suit states. A relative said Thursday he was out of town and that the family would have no immediate comment.

The suit asks for general damages, medical expenses, economic losses, the cost of the suit and punitive damages.

Chenoweth, who was featured by the Santa Maria Times in August, graduated from St. Joseph High School and had planned to attend Hancock College's firefighter program this fall. He told the paper at that time his plans were on hold.

Gonzalo Garcia, a spokesman for Chevron, said he could not comment because he had not seen the suit.

The company does not comment on current litigation, he added.

Garcia said he was sorry to hear that the suit had been filed. “Always our preference is to work with the involved homeowners,” Garcia said.

Officials from ConocoPhilips and Kerr-McGee could not be reached.

The Sunrise Hills neighborhood is in the midst of cleanup effort launched by the oil companies to find the contaminated areas and replace them with clean soil.

Throughout the neighborhood the companies are finding and removing sumps, or pits that were dug next to oil wells to collect crude oil, mud, water and other debris during production.

However, the process of testing and locating contamination is long and some residents have resorted to litigation in order to find relief.

Chenoweth's parents, Jeff and Lisa Chenoweth, were among several plaintiffs in a suit filed June 22 with the same law firm of Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy against the oil companies.

Along the Chenoweths' street, Chevron purchased and demolished three homes, at 753, 759 and 767 Raintree Drive, in order to clean up the sites.

Other companies also bought and demolished homes in the neighborhood.

In the past, when oil wells were decommissioned, the sumps were either buried or left to dry out, unmarked. That met legal standards at the time, oil company officials have said.

Malia Spencer can be reached at 739-2219 or

Nov. 3, 2006


here is the map. Raintree is right behind our house. our backyards are tangent.


Jackie Hanks said...

This article is so scary, and makes me think of our recent experience.
My husband and I recently sold our home and were looking for a new one and thought Sunrise Hills was such a nice neighborhood. We found a home we loved on the end of a quiet culdesac, put in an offer, and crossed our fingers. Another buyer snuck in and got the house and we were devestated. A few days later I read your blog about the oil sumps and the kids in your old neighborhood who had also been diagnosed, and felt relieved that things worked out the way they did. We have two small children, and I can't imagine what those parents must be going through living where demolition is going on all around them, and not knowing what might happen to their children. I am greatful for your open thoughts, it has helped us see things in a different light--we thought we were so unlucky, but luckily for us things aren't always what they seem!

Carl said...

You probably don't know who I am, but I was a year behind you at Oxy, and when I read about how you were sick in the Oxy magazine, I just couldn't believe it. I guess I am another one of those readers of your blog who you wouldn't have imagined. So keep writing, please, because what you have to say is actually pretty inspiring.
My thoughts go out to you in this tough time...and even if you don't know who I am, at least know that good vibes are being sent your way.
Also. I grew up in Camarillo, just a bit further down the 101, and that's where my parents still live. And four of our neighbors have gotten cancer as well, all of them clustered really close together. It makes you wonder whether they really check out the land they're building those sunny subdivisions on top of, huh?
Take care,
Carl Fischer

Esteban said...

Hi Erica!this is the first time I write to you.Iam Esteban from Argentina ,Andres's best friend,and he told me that I can write to you,so,,here I am.
We haven't met each other,and Iam sorry if my english spelling is not proper,but I wanted to tell you I am looking forward to finally meet you next time I'm going to the States,I have met Jaci by messenger only,but we really get along,so,this letter is just to introduce myself,hoping you write me back,love,Esteban

Anna said...

So are you going to file a lawsuit as well? I really think you should. Not just to hold oil transnationals responsible for the destruction they cause, but for everyone to wake up to how far and wide the reprocussions of this kind of contamination spread. These kinds of cases are popping up all over. I know the native tribes of the Ecuadorian rainforest have been sueing Texaco and subsidiaries for years - read more at
it really makes your blood boil.
Hope you are doing okay lately. Miss and love you very much!

Kelly said...

Hi Erica,

This is Kelly Luo from Oxy class of 2001. I was sadden to find out that you were sick through the Oxy magazine. I have a friend named Helen who works for an organization called Asians for Miracle Matches. Your story is one of the patient stories that they share with people. When I called Helen to update my donor profile, I was telling her about you. She asked me if your name was Erica. Your story has really gotten around. She told me that they are working hard to try to find you a match. At work, we do a Seasons of Service event every quarter. I’m going to try to see if we can do something with her organization. Please know that my thoughts are with you and that you have inspired me to try to do my part. Can you please send me your address? I’d love to send you a card/pictures from when we were at school. One of my fondest memories of Oxy was when you taught me how to do a summersault and hand stand in the water during a retreat. Not to bad for someone who doesn’t even know how to swim, right? You were a great teacher!

Take Care!