Before Erin Brockovich, there was Penny Newman and the fight for the biggest toxic waste lawsuit in California history
Stringfellow Acid Pits tells the story of one of the most toxic places in the United States, and of an epic legal battle waged to clean up the site and hold those responsible accountable. In 1955, California officials approached rock quarry owner James Stringfellow about using his land in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, as a hazardous dump site. Officials claimed it was a natural waste disposal site because of the impermeable rocks that underlay the surface. They were gravely mistaken. Over 33 million gallons of industrial chemicals from more than a dozen of the nation’s most prominent companies poured into the site’s unlined ponds. In the 1960s and 1970s, heavy rains forced surges of chemical-laden water into Pyrite Creek and the nearby town of Glen Avon. Children played in the froth, making fake beards with the chemical foam. The liquid waste contaminated the groundwater, threatening the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of California residents. Penny Newman, a special education teacher and mother, led a grassroots army of so-called “hysterical housewives” who demanded answers and fought to clean up the toxic dump.
The ensuing three-decade legal saga involved more than 1,000 lawyers, 4,000 plaintiffs, and nearly 200 defendants, and led to the longest civil trial in California history. The author unveils the environmental and legal history surrounding the Stringfellow Acid Pits through meticulous research based on personal interviews, court records, and EPA and other documents. The contamination at the Stringfellow site will linger for hundreds of years. The legal fight has had an equally indelible influence, shaping environmental law, toxic torts, appellate procedure, takings law, and insurance coverage, into the present day.
Brian Craig is a lawyer in Logan, Utah and a full-time adjunct faculty member in the School of Legal Studies at Purdue University Global.
“Stringfellow Acid Pits makes clear that scholars as well as the public should pay more attention to toxic torts . . . I have little doubt that scholars and teachers interested in environmental history will cite and use this book, not only in California but across the country.”
—Richard Newman, Rochester Institute of Technology
“Few people have read the lengthy Stringfellow cost allocation decision, and even fewer realize how many impacts the Stringfellow site had on US law. Yet, the many decisions that flowed from Stringfellow touch on many diverse areas of law, and helped shape some bedrock principles of CERCLA. For that reason alone, the book is an important contribution.”
—Rebecca M. Bratspies, CUNY School of Law
"Including 40 pages of notes and a 10-page timeline, this book scrutinizes an interesting case study that deserves greater attention in the environmental literature." - G. A. McBeath, CHOICE Connect- G. A. McBeath
"Stringfellow Acid Pits is a prodigious feat of legal scholarship... The audience for Stringfellow Acid Pits is lawyers, judges, law students, and anyone who cares about the history of environmental contamination in the U.S. during the Cold War." - Dan Lawton, The Journal of the Litigation Section of the California Lawyers Association- Dan Lawton
"Technical at points, Craig’s book is a valuable read not only for those well versed in the law, but for the general reader. The author’s account of the saga illuminates how the wheels of justice often turn slowly and that only through persistence and determination can change be effectuated. The book also serves as a reminder that society must guard against environmental damage or be bound to pay the price in the future." - Sheri Dennis, Florida Bar Journal- Sheri Dennis
"The sordid history of Love Canal has been well documented, but as Brian Craig writes in his new book, 'the saga of the Stringfellow Acid Pits remains unknown to most Americans.' Stringfellow Acid Pits endeavors to fill this historical gap and the result is a compelling and compact recounting of the pits’ construction, failure, and remediation over the course of seven decades... As someone who was born in 1978, I found Craig’s book to be a poignant reminder of both the progress that has been made since then and how much work is left to be done" - Frederick H. Turner, Natural Resources & Environment- Frederick H. Turner
Read: Stringfellow Acid Pits: The Toxic and Legal Legacy was reviewed by Joseph M. Junfola for Aaimco