Former Fairfax video store owners file lawsuit over toxic soil

Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA), July 11, 2011
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A couple who formerly operated a Fairfax video store have sued the former owners of the Fair-Anselm Plaza in Fairfax, alleging that the property owners withheld information about toxic dry cleaning chemicals released at the plaza, exposing the couple to serious health risks.

George and Charlene Bianchini, who operated Broadway Video at the plaza from 1994 to 2009, have sued Matthew and Daniel Friedman, the brothers who owned the plaza before selling it to LRG Capital Real Estate Partners in May 2009.

Both the Bianchinis and the Friedmans declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The suit, filed in May in Marin Superior Court, alleges that prior to and during the Bianchinis’ tenancy, dry cleaning business tenants at the Fair-Anselm Plaza spilled and improperly disposed of perchloroethylene, or PCE, a colorless liquid used as an industrial solvent — particularly by dry cleaners — and classified as a probable cancer agent by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the suit, the Friedmans learned of the spillage and improper disposal of PCE at the shopping center as early as March 2000, but delayed efforts to remove it until August 2001. The suit contends that the Friedmans, aware notification to their tenants of the presence of PCE would hurt their rental income, concealed the remediation efforts from the Bianchinis and others and failed to properly remediate the PCE contamination.


Town Manager Michael Rock said county environmental health officials identified high levels of perchloroethylene at the Fair-Anselm Plaza, and commissioned a cleanup of the site that concluded in 2001 with “a clean bill of health.”

The Bianchinis’ suit states that this remediation effort resulted in the removal of nearly 92 tons of contaminated earth. The suit contends, however, that subsequent soil sampling showed the continued presence of PCE above safe levels in the soil under Picaroto Cleaners at 709 Center Blvd. The suit states that instead of continuing excavation, the Friedmans covered 14,000 pounds of remaining PCE-contaminated soil with a new cement slab and sealant.

In September 2009, after noticing an unusual odor at their video store, the Bianchinis hired Environmental Resource Group to investigate. The suit states that Environmental Resource’s testing showed unsafe PCE fumes at and near Broadway Video and Picaroto Cleaners.

Based on this testing, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered the Friedmans to pay for additional investigation to determine what amount of contamination may continue to exist.

Jeanne Garcia, a spokeswoman for the environmental agency, said that more testing is scheduled to begin at the site on July 18.

According to the suit, the Bianchinis have suffered a succession of adverse health effects from the PCE contamination, including but not limited to vertigo, dizziness, malaise, a weakened condition and an inability to heal from other injuries.

The Bianchinis are seeking $884,000 as compensation for rent paid to the Friedmans as well as thousands of dollars in fines for health and safety violations, and an unspecified amount for general and special damages.

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