San Diego man claims toxic plume from AMETEK plant killed his mother

Posted at 7:46 PM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 22:46:21-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Ron Cox takes detours so he can avoid driving past the former AMETEK Aerospace & Defense Company site in El Cajon.  "I don't want to see this place," he said.  "I think they should level this place." 

Signage at the facility on Greenfield Drive now lists Senior Aerospace Ketema as the business operating there.

Cox told Team 10 he believes the people who ran the facility when it was called AMETEK decades ago killed his mother by dumping thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground.

Arla Cox died in 2001.  It wasn't until 2006 that Cox said he began to understand why she died.  He put two and two together after a flyer was posted on the door of the mobile home where his mother lived for more than 35 years said toxic waste from the plant had created a toxic plume that contaminated the groundwater beneath three trailer parks.

Arla Cox had just turned 60 when she began complaining of back pain. Doctors prescribed pain medication for more than three years, until the day when the pain got so bad she couldn't stand up, according to her son.

"I took her into the hospital, and that's when they diagnosed her with kidney cancer," Cox said.  " She had a tumor about the size of a small basketball and the pain that she'd been enduring for the past three and a half years was that tumor pushing against her spine."

By the time Arla Cox was diagnosed, the cancer had spread, and doctors told her it was terminal.  "She lived exactly two and a half months past her diagnosis,"  Cox said.

His brother, Adam, continued to live in their mother's trailer.  Adam suffered a brain tumor and is now in an Arizona hospital.

Cox told Team 10 a next-door neighbor died last year of a brain tumor.  "It just seems too coincidental that they've been living over this plume for over 35 years," he added.

Cox filed a wrongful death lawsuit against AMETEK, claiming the people running the facility knew the solvents they dumped into the ground contained cancer-causing trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and other toxic substances.   The lawsuit states: "Despite knowledge of groundwater contamination at extremely high levels, AMETEK made a cold, calculated business decision to simply walk away from this community without any effort to clean up or remediate the groundwater it had created."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

"We're starting to get more and more calls from people who have suffered from cancer in this mobile home park, and if they are above the plume, they are cases that we're investigating," said attorney John Fiske, who filed the lawsuit. "We are suing Senior and AMETEK because AMETEK knew about this since 1987 and Senior knew about this since 1997."

Fiske, whose law firm is also suing AMETEK on behalf of three other groups, claims the company has ignored orders to clean up the hazardous site.

One of those lawsuits involves the parents of children who attended Magnolia Elementary School, which sits next door.  The school closed for the 2015-2016 school year for renovations and the installation of devices that monitor and expel toxic vapors away from the classrooms.

Several state agencies are now involved in testing the air quality in three mobile home parks located near the site.  The California Department of Toxic Substances Control  (DTSC) says two residences required the installation of air purification units.  AMETEK is paying for those units and the ongoing testing.

Team 10 reached out to AMETEK's attorney.  Ed Walton provided us with this statement from the company:  "AMETEK has just received the claim of some of the children of Arla Cox that their mother’s passing in 2001 was related to groundwater contamination beneath her mobile home, and will respond to the Complaint in court shortly.  AMETEK is committed to its continuing cooperation with the agencies addressing the groundwater issues near the Ketema site in El Cajon. "