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.