Companies such as Southern Pacific and Vinnell Mining & Minerals stored and transported massive amounts of asbestos in Downtown Coalinga, and abandoned it there until the EPA cleaned it up. Learn the history of Coalinga asbestos mining and storage here.View Timeline
Southern Pacific’s property in the hills north of Coalinga remained unused for decades. In the mid-1950s, however, chrysotile asbestos was discovered in that area and determined to be asbestos ore that could be mined and milled to produce a marketable asbestos fiber product.This led to an intensive land rush from 1959 to 1962 to construct mines and mills in the area for the purpose of mining and milling the asbestos ore into asbestos fibers that could be sold.
Southern Pacific saw an opportunity to exploit the large parcels of land it received for free from the government and leased this land to Coalinga Asbestos Company (a joint venture between Johns Manville Company and Kern County Land Company). In addition to collecting rental payment, Southern Pacific demanded that Coalinga Asbestos Company pay Southern Pacific royalties for every ton of asbestos ore mined and processed.
of asbestos waste remained uncovered
The processed asbestos from Southern Pacific’s property and another nearby mine was transported to an 107-acre property in downtown Coalinga owned by Southern Pacific and its subsidiary. Bags of asbestos fibers were loaded onto Southern Pacific Transportation Company’s railway cars for distribution. These 25-pound bags would often break during loading, leading to several ton piles of raw asbestos fibers accumulating on the property.
The land was abandoned shortly after a ban on asbestos was issued, but the piles of asbestos fibers remained on the property. Coalinga residents were subjected to nearly 24/7 exposure to high levels of asbestos. No measures were taken by Southern Pacific, the Land Company, or any of their tenants to protect the residents from exposure. Children often played in abandoned warehouses, even having asbestos “snowball” fights with each other.
“Children would often play in the unlocked and abandoned warehouses that contained the piles of asbestos fibers and would throw “snowballs” of the white asbestos at each other.”
In early 1980, the Metropolitan Water District ( “MWD”) of Southern California detected elevated levels of asbestos in water samples from the California Aqueduct near Los Angeles. An extensive sampling program along the Aqueduct, conducted by the MWD in August through September of 1980, suggested that the JM Mill Area was one probable source of asbestos in the California Aqueduct. This was confirmed by the inspection of the tailings on Southern Pacific’s land.
The mines and mills as well as the 107-acre parcel of property in downtown Coalinga were determined to pose a hazard to the health and safety of the residents of Coalinga and was designated a Superfund Site by the EPA. The EPA ordered Southern Pacific to perform immediate emergency measures to protect the residents from being further exposed to asbestos.
The Levin Simes firm alone has represented two men with mesothelioma who grew up in
Coalinga a town of less than 10,000 people.
People diagnosed with Mesothelioma
Coalinga Residents Diagnosed
Plaintiffs Represented by Levin Simes