Erin Brockovich Sets Sights on Lennar

The environmental advocate is headed to South Carolina to draw attention to a housing community she claims is sickening residents.
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High-profile environmental advocate Erin Brockovich has been investigating possible health-damaging chemicals at a Lennar (LEN) - Get Report housing community in South Carolina.

Next week, she will be unveiling test results that, she says, confirm the existence of methane and hazardous chemical contaminations at the site that are "of concern,"

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has learned. Such findings would run contrary to a recent ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Certain residents at Lennar's Pebble Creek community in the Westcott Plantation section of Charleston, S.C., have complained about health problems such as headache and fatigue for several years now.

They claim these health issues may be related to possible benzene, methane and other VOC contamination at the community. VOCs are "volatile organic compounds" that can easily vaporize and enter the atmosphere and disrupt air quality. Some VOCs, such as benzene (which is emitted from tobacco smoke, among other places), are known carcinogens.

A Regulatory All-Clear

Last year, the EPA tested the air quality of 19 homes in the community and found methane levels, but the agency concluded that all of the homes were "significantly below the lower explosive limit for methane." High levels of methane can lead to explosions and asphyxia.

In October, the EPA issued a final report on the matter that said the corrective actions on the part of Lennar had mitigated the danger from the methane. The EPA also concluded that "no release of other VOCs (defined as hazardous substances) to the environment have occurred."

Now Brockovich is headed back to Charleston next week to discuss testing results that appear to contradict the EPA ruling -- raising the possibility of a lingering high-profile legal battle with Lennar.

On May 6, Brockovich will be holding a community meeting at the Charleston Place Hotel to discuss the test results.

"Experts have traveled to this site and test results have confirmed that there is VOC and methane contamination of the indoor air and the sub-slab soils that are of concern," says a brief email about the upcoming meeting obtained by

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.

Ben Sauls, a homeowner in the community, says his family moved from his home after they experienced negative health effects. "My daughter kept having bloody noses constantly, like three or four times a day," he says, adding that the entire family suffered from severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and red eyes.

His lender has given him a temporary forbearance, or forgiveness of debt payments, until August.

"Nobody in the neighborhood that I talked to was comfortable with the EPA's findings except for Lennar," Sauls says, pointing out that families have continued to get sick in the community after the EPA closed the case in October. He says a lawsuit against Lennar is likely to be filed soon by Brockovich.

Lennar officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Brockovich, who works with law firm Masry & Vititoe, also could not be immediately reached for comment.

Brockovich was made famous by a 2000 movie about her start as an advocate. The film, which stars Julia Roberts, details Brockovich's work in establishing that the people living in Hinkley, Calif., had been exposed to the toxic Chromium 6, which had leaked into the groundwater by a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. compressor station.

A total of $333 million in damages were paid to the residents of the area in that case.

Know What You Own:

Lennar closed Friday down 0.8% at $19.27 on a generally mixed day for homebuilder stocks. Here's how some other stocks in the sector ended the session: