West Santa Rosa pollution case goes to trial

Several Santa Rosa residents faced off in court Tuesday against Union Pacific Railroad and JDS Uniphase, companies they contend tainted their wells with potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

?The evidence will show how their business practices contaminated the environment, how it contaminated the groundwater and how it entered the defendants? wells,? attorney Joseph Gonzalez of Westlake Village said in opening statements in a civil trial in Sonoma County Superior Court.

Gonzalez blamed at least part of the pollution to land owned by Union Pacific on Frances Avenue and to chemical barrels from Optical Coating Laboratories, Inc., found at that property and an adjacent parcel.

OCLI became part of JDS Uniphase in 2000.

Defense attorneys, however, contended the problem was caused by two dry cleaning establishments in the immediate neighborhood, which is a half mile from the Frances Avenue site.

?The plaintiffs drinking water wells were contaminated; it?s just that they were contaminated by the dry cleaners,? said attorney John Barg of San Francisco, who was representing Union Pacific.

Barg said that the Union Pacific property was badly contaminated by metal recyclers that rented it and by ?midnight dumpers? who left toxics there, but the contamination moved west, away from the affected neighborhood.

The remarks came on the first day of what is expected to be a four-month trial.

?It has been a nightmare,? said Annette Wolcott, who grew up in the West College Avenue house her father built and had to rely on bottled water for two years before getting connected to city water.

Wolcott is one of 32 residents of the eight homes in that neighborhood where the wells were discovered in 2000 to be severely contaminated.

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