The Carson City Council on Monday declared a local emergency because of fuel contamination that may have rendered an entire neighborhood toxic.
The action, approved unanimously, could prompt action from the state and other agencies and put pressure on Shell Oil Company, which is being blamed for the contamination in the 285-home Carousel neighborhood.
The contamination was discovered about five years ago, along with buried fuel tanks beneath homes. Residents said they and their pets have been developing cancerous tumors.
The city and its supporters point to tests showing methane gas at levels well above explosive thresholds and concentrations of benzene, a known carcinogen, in the soil.
Shell Oil Company has been working closely with the lead regulatory agency, The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The company says the county public health and fire departments are among those that say there is no immediate danger to residents and that homes do not need to be demolished or condemned.
Residents of the neighborhood now have in their corner Erin Brokovich, an attorney famed for taking on environmental issues.
"There is a risk factor here for an explosion," Brokovich said. "And what, we expect for them to sit here and wait for that to happen?"
Carousel residents said the contamination has rendered their own soil unsafe to handle and poisoned fruits and vegetables grown in their yards.