Judge Denies Request to Stop Work at County’s Social Services Building

Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven L. Perk Friday denied a request by a group of county social workers that he order the county to halt work on a solar panel project at a building they claim is contaminated and has caused illnesses among the workers.

The workers have filed lawsuits, alleging that toxins emanating from the soil underneath the building in 800 block of Eckhoff Street in Orange have caused current and former workers to suffer from both autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Since the workers’ lawsuits arose, county officials have begun conducting air monitoring tests at the facility and have posted results that experts say don’t support any need for an evacuation or connection to health problems.

The air testing comes after the discovery of chemicals in the ground underneath the building that have been associated with cancer.

Attorneys representing the workers have repeatedly complained about the testing regime and access to testing areas. Last week the lawyers went to court arguing that recent county efforts to dig up holes for the installation of solar panels on the building was tampering with evidence.

“The county’s activities have affected the evidence that is to be collected in this case,” said Peter Alfert, a lead attorney representing workers in the case.

Alfert said county officials gave no notice when they dug up 81 casing holes near the building. County officials said they did.

Alfert said the county removed a massive amount of dirt, up to 350 cubic yards. County officials say they removed a negligible amount of dirt, closer to 160 cubic yards.

“There’s no tampering of evidence at all,” said attorney Arezou Khonsari, an outside counsel hired to represent the county.

While Perk warned county officials to avoid removing more dirt at the site and to ensure notice on any change moving forward, he denied the temporary restraining order, saying “At this point, I don’t see there’s an issue of irreparable harm.”