Stanford sues HP companies, Agilent over toxic contamination | News | Palo Alto Online |


Stanford sues HP companies, Agilent over toxic contamination

Lawsuit alleges millions of dollars in damages for hazardous PCB, TCE discharges

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Stanford University officials have filed a federal lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard Company and its successors Hewlett Packard Enterprise, HP Inc., and Agilent Technologies for years of contamination of its property with hazardous PCBs and TCE, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, in San Jose.

The board of trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University filed the multimillion-dollar lawsuit, which does not specify a dollar amount, on Feb 23. It alleges that Hewlett-Packard Company contaminated Stanford's property at 1601 S. California Ave. over a nearly 30-year period beginning in 1970.

Hewlett-Packard Company, which occupied the property from 1970-1999, allegedly caused polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and trichloroethylene (TCE) to be discharged over the property. It further spread PCBs over substantial portions of the property during a 1987 grading and construction project, the lawsuit claims.

Stanford discovered the contamination in 2015 when it began construction of its University Terrace faculty-housing project. The university halted development while it cleaned up the hazardous soil and developed a plan to shield its new multimillion-dollar homes from vapors emanating from the soil's remaining TCE, which could not be effectively removed.

Stanford spent millions of dollars on cleanup and remediation to make the site safe for housing and had to obtain a finding from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) that there is no significant risk to future residents after it added the remediation, the lawsuit noted. TCE vapors have also been identified under some homes in the adjacent College Terrace neighborhood, some residents found after hiring their own consultant.

That issue is not mentioned in the lawsuit, but the university provided the Weekly this week with a copy of a letter from DTSC stating that trichloroethylene was not detected in the air samples collected at a residence of concern by a contractor at concentrations exceeding the screening levels identified in the agency's workplan and report for the College Terrace crawlspaces.

Residents remain concerned because only one home out of six with elevated levels of TCE was tested. Also, sampling may not be complete, because in accordance with DTSC vapor intrusion guidelines and the final work plan it is likely the agency will recommend a second air sampling event to account for potential seasonal variability, College Terrace residents Fred Balin and Ed Schmitt said in a follow-up email after Stanford provided the letter to the Weekly.

Stanford is suing under the 1986 Superfund law's Section 107 (a) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S. Code Section 9607. The law imposes strict liability without regard to fault on entities and persons who operated a facility at the time hazardous materials were discharged or who through a contract or other agreement arranged for the disposal, treatment or transportation of hazardous materials at a facility. The university can recover costs for cleanup and its responses to the contamination.

Stanford claims damages for a continuing nuisance and for costs of abating the nuisance, which have interfered with its use of the property. The presence of the hazardous materials constitutes a "continuing trespass" because it is a wrongful occupation of the property, the university claims. Stanford is seeking to recover the value of the use of the land for a three-year period and reasonable cost for the restoration of the property to its original condition.

Agilent, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company are defendants because they are corporate successors of Hewlett-Packard Company and assume all assets and liabilities, including for the contamination, the university claims. Hewlett-Packard Company assigned the lease to Agilent, which was then an affiliate, from 1999-2005. The lawsuit alleges that Agilent agreed to indemnify HP and to take sole responsibility for responding to Stanford for conditions on he property, including contamination.

HP spokeswoman Dana Lengkeek said that Agilent is handling the defense of the lawsuit and referred queries to Agilent. Stephanie Notaney, an Agilent spokeswoman, said the company has a strict policy prohibiting discussions or comments regarding potential litigation.


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5 people like this
Posted by Sophie
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2018 at 10:26 am

Who will expect the trace of contamination from production or lab activities is part of legacy of the tech giant?

14 people like this
Posted by Janette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2018 at 11:51 am

Longtime College Terrace residents have know about this for years. The story told was "there is toxic waste buried up California Ave, right across from the Terrace" Why Stanford didn't know this is beyond belief. They built their huge multi-million dollar home development in an area called the Industrial Park, what did they expect? How about a plan to sue HP, knowing full well there need to build superseded their responsibility to the community/environment! Is this Stanford looking for even more money, not too surprised:(

8 people like this
Posted by ofcourse
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2018 at 11:58 am

There's a bike trail that cuts through from College Terrace to Bol Park.
There's a grated storm drain on the trail.
Once I saw a hose fed through the fence from the HP facility,
and wired to the grate, and slowly dumping who-knows-what
into the storm drain system.

33 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2018 at 3:11 pm

I hope they win the lawsuit and use the money to clean up all of the toxic waste once and for all. How many generations of kids have been affected by this cancer-causing pollution far?

Good thing they are doing this now, before HP skips town and possibly goes out of business. No developer will buy the HP property while toxic waste litigation is in progress.

7 people like this
Posted by 99-Year Lease
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2018 at 4:47 pm

resident writes: "No developer will buy the HP property while toxic waste litigation is in progress."

Stanford is/was/and always will be the property owner. They just rent out the research park with long-term leases (for up to 99-years). As the real landowner, Stanford is ultimately responsible for any future cleanup if they can't sue the money from their tenants. The City doesn't even own the roads in the research park. They are just right-of-way easements.

5 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 1, 2018 at 5:22 pm

How far out would this contamination spread over all those years? And is it a joint responsibility between the landowner and tenant to clean it up?

Like this comment
Posted by Dharma
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2018 at 8:11 pm

I only remember a restaurant being at this site during those years.

5 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:47 pm

Marie is a registered user.

HP's Stanford Research Park has been a superfund site for years - it is well known. HP has spent millions remediating the toxic plume on its main site from Hanover East over the years, and in turn sued Varian and other companies that also contributed to the toxic plume, from using single walled underground tanks for storing chemicals used in various manufacturing processes. At the time the tanks were installed, the general thinking was the chemicals would not escape. I believe today in semiconductor manufacturing (no longer done at the HP site) is to use double-walled tanks above ground so they can be regularly inspected.

Here is a 2010 PAOnline article with more info:

Web Link

What is a surprise is for Stanford to be sueing so many years after this problem was known.

There is another plume on the other side of El Camino where HP's first manufacturing building was located where Agilent's headquarters were for a while. And there is another plume under the JCC that was a Sun microsystems site. They were allowed to build 60 feet high so the parking lot would be above ground, to avoid issues with that plume.

Palo Alto is riddled with these plumes. It's a big, but well-documented issue.

6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2018 at 8:08 am

There are other toxic cleanup sites in Stanford Research Park up by Hanover, closer to the VA, and around Varian. Stanford is host to superfund site plumes adjacent to College Terrace and Barron Psrk homes/neighborhoods. Thank you Stanford.

3 people like this
Posted by Art
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 2, 2018 at 11:24 am

The story mentions that the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) 'blessed' the remediation that Stanford did (removing much of the most highly contaminated soil), but that was just to allow the construction of houses to go forward. There is still residual contamination in the soil and that will in time continue to percolate upwards. Houses closest to the highest concentrations were required to be built with impermeable layers under the basements and equipped with exhaust fans and hoses. Folks who purchase the homes in this development, built over a toxic plume, cannot ignore the risk that remains and are left with a permanent reminder of that environmental damage. Let's hope, for their sake, that the DTSC's recommendations were conservative and they will not suffer any long term consequences to their health.

5 people like this
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2018 at 7:24 pm

Just one more reason not to have build a home with a basement.
Vapors can become trapped, and often it is difficult to discern between the VOC off-gassing of new construction materials from old spill VOC's.

Build the homes above ground and design for lots of natural ventilation.

And make sure the marble in your kitchen counters is not overly radioactive while collecting your data.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 3, 2018 at 6:36 pm

We live in College Terrace and this is news to me. Article says Stanford found out in 2015.. but I do not recall being notified by Stanford that their nearby lands and past tenant had deposited toxic wastes into the soil. These wastes being dumped into the soil can then travel (based on the water tables below) and could actually be in the soils of College Terrace.

Are we supposed to test if PCBs and TCE vapors are in our home by hiring out a private company to see if these fumes are leaching into our homes?? Shouldn't Stanford and HP pay for our homes to be tested? This is pretty irresponsible. College Terrace is filled with young children and families... and even a Palo Alto public school nearby (Escondido Elementary).

Really Stanford and it's tenants are responsible for these toxic chemicals leaching into College Terrace homes and grounds and should pay to get properties cleaned up. Studies have shown they are linked to higher levels of cancer.

11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 3, 2018 at 6:52 pm

Don't be shocked that there is toxic waste swimming under HP and leaking out into the surrounding neighborhoods. Jimmy Carter's EPA documented this as a Superfund site back in the 1970s and made Federal money and expertise available to help clean it up. Unfortunately, Carter's presidency lasted for only 1 term and the next president did his best to cover up the EPA's work, but it is not hard to find in the internet era. The city also maintains records, though they advertise it very well. Try Google'ing for "Palo Alto Superfund sites". You can't hide from Google.

Here is an article in the Stanford newspaper from 2010, so clearly Stanford is well aware of the problem. The current issue is not because the pollution exists, but because it is spreading under Stanford housing where it is much more dangerous.
Web Link

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