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Beverly Hills school in Erin Brockovich Act II

Beverly Hills, April 29: Erin Brockovich and attorney Ed Masry have filed 23 claims against the Beverly Hills school system and city government, alleging that toxic fumes from an oil-drilling rig on a high school campus have caused cancers in former students.

A few TV cameras were on hand to catch the latest appearance by Brockovich, who inspired an eponymous movie about a water pollution case that won the residents of Hinkley, California, a $333 million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric.

Brockovich said as many as 300 claims could eventually be filed on behalf of alumni who attended the school between 1975 and 1997 and have been treated for Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, thyroid, breast and other cancers.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District and the South Coast Air Quality Management District have disputed findings by Brockovich and Masry that the active oil rig under the athletic fields at Beverly Hills High School emitted high levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals.

Parties who plan to sue government entities must first file administrative claims. The city and the school district have 45 days to respond, said Ward Benshoof, an attorney representing the district. “We’ll be asking the claimant for some information,” Benshoof said.

Masry said his law firm expects to file lawsuits against several oil companies in the next few weeks, then add Beverly Hills and the school district later.

The claims did not specify damage figures.

Gwen Gross, district superintendent, said the Air Quality Management District and environmental consultants hired by the district have done several air tests. “In all cases,” she said, “the levels were well below health limits established by state officials.”

Al Stewart, a Dallas attorney working with the Masry’s firm on the case, said their epidemiological research has found unexpectedly high cancer rates among graduates of the school.

Masry and Brockovich said they have identified 250 cancer cases among people who attended the school between 1975 and 1997. An estimated 11,500 students graduated during those years. The firm has also found 40 cases of cancer among teachers.

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