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Guest Blog by Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

8 AM: Tuesday, March 18th 2014

A resident in Arvin, CA gets a knock at the door.

A staff person with the Kern County Public Health Department greets the homeowner and states to her that there is very high level (later known to be explosive levels) of gas leaking into her home from a broken pipeline underneath the home. The county worker suggests to the homeowner that it might be a good idea to leave the residence, but only on a voluntary basis, for her own health benefit. Then the county worker walks to the next house, and so on for a total of eight homes.

The county worker did not state it was an emergency, so the family stayed home and continued on with their daily routine.

This resident and her family had been smelling a very strong odor of gas for about three months, mainly coming in from electricity outlets; however she never reported it because she did not know where to report it.

Arvin residents in that area of Nelson Court, had seen PG&E drilling holes in and around their homes and yards the week before, thinking nothing of it. The homeowners assumed that PG&E was fixing the gas leak.

3 PM: March 18, 2014

As a community organizer, I Gustavo Aguirre Jr, working with GCM visited a total of five homes in Nelson Court.  ALL OF the residents that I visited confirmed that they had smelled the gas for about 2 to 3 months and were growing concerned with the situation.  Why did it take 2 to 3 months to detect a major gas leak?! Why were residents not warned IMMEDIATELY that the levels of gas in their homes had reached explosive levels?!

6 PM: March 18, 2014

Arvin City Council held their regular meeting, however this meeting was much less routine.  With a heavy media presence, Kern County Supervisor, Leticia Perez, and the Director of Public Health, Matt Constantine, stated and pleaded to the Council that an emergency evacuation for the eight homes on Nelson Court was of the highest priority. 

6:50 PM: March 18, 2014

With the homeowner’s permission, I took an a Bucket sample (air sample) at a residence on Nelson Court.

7 PM: March 18, 2014

Once they made their concerns public, both Mrs. Perez and Mr. Constantine left the meeting to witness the emergency evacuation of all eight homes, including those where the explosive levels of gas were detected. It was then when a resident of one of the homes invited me in to take a Bucket sample (air quality sample) of a room with a very heavy gas odor.

However, only the residents of those eight homes were told of the emergency evacuation.  Many of the folks living just across the street are under the impression that there is little danger to their health and safety.

What the community members still don’t understand is, why did the County wait until 7pm to decide that this was an emergency situation? Especially, if they knew that levels of gas were already at explosive levels at 8am that morning!

In the same home where I took the Bucket air sample, one resident stated, “My pregnant daughter is the one who sleeps in the room with the highest smell of gas, last week she got up to use the restroom and while she was walking to the restroom she passed out on the floor.” This same resident stated that she had been feeling sick these past weeks and now she might believe it has to do with the contestant exposure to the gases from the broken pipeline. However, aside from “high levels of gas” no other information was given to the residents on what they may have been exposed over that time.

According to news reports, Kern County Environmental Health said the line is a field gas line, not natural gas. This basically means it’s a waste oil field gas going to flared, or burned off.

According to the county, until the leak, Petro Capital Resources had no idea the line existed even though it was in use.

The County is unclear how long the leak has been going on. It took several days to track down the owner, a problem it said is common because there is no one agency that keeps track of all underground pipelines.

In two of the eight homes evacuated, two households have pregnant women and are concerned for the health of their families and themselves.

The following day, after the families were evacuated, myself, Gustavo Aguirre and Juan Florez from Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, visited the families at the hotel (paid for by Petro Capital Resources), they all relayed the urgency to return home and have the county provide a health impact assessment.

We’re expecting the results of the air sample to be back from the laboratory in a few days.  Stay tuned, results will be released Monday, March 24, 2014…………

By now most of us have heard about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

But how many of us know that tar sands is already being refined in US refineries?

Oil companies are bypassing the whole pipeline debate and bringing heavy crude in by rail.  And for communities living along those railroads, crude by rail can be disastrous.

Image from rcinet.ca

On July 6, 2013 an oil train derailed in Lac Meganitic, Quebec.  All but one of the 73 cars was carrying oil, and five exploded.  The death toll from this accident is still rising as authorities continue to find bodies in the “burned out ruins”.   Read the rest of this entry »

Photo: Chevron-weagree.com

Rage poured out of residents’ pores and mouths on Tuesday night  in Richmond.

Almost 500 people packed the town’s Civic Center for the Chevron hosted town hall meeting in response to the huge fire at the refinery on Monday night.

The evening,coincided with National Night Out-a major event in Richmond, began with a rally outside organized by Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Richmond’s Green Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, spoke at this rally, reminding all that economic and environmental justice were key issues for Richmond.

The Cast of Characters
The town hall meeting inside included information about shelter in place and a small postcard was passed out with key numbers-like the claims hotline, odor lines and police.

The meeting was moderated by Joan Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond Community Foundation, an organization that is rumored to receive a significant amount of funding from Chevron. Her presence was unusual and condescending. She began by having each panel member give a short presentation on their role in the fire and the emergency response after, the panel included:

Nigel Hearne, Chevron Richmond refinery General Manager

Randy Sawyer, Director Hazardous Materials Division, Contra Costa Health Services

Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager (why wasn’t the Mayor invited on the panel?)

Dr. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa Public Health Director

Katherine Hern, Contra Costa County Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator

Jeff McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Hearne expressed a sincere apology and accepted full responsibility for the fire at the refinery. However, he was unwilling to provide details about the substances burned in unit 4, he described it as a “diesel like” substance.

Hearne was unwilling to provide information about his annual salary. Hearne is a strategic leader for Chevron, formerly the operations manager at their beloved and touted El Segundo Refinery in Southern California.

Randy Sawyer was booed almost as much as Hearne. He provided no tangible information about what materials may have been in the air or what people were being exposed to. Residents felt the emergency response was inadequate-with a delayed siren and some that are registered did not receive calls about the impending danger.

Dr. Wendel Brunner was mildly feisty. He was the first person to discuss health effects from the smoke’s particulate matter. Brunner informed the crowd that as of 5 pm Tuesday, 949 people had reported acute (asthma attacks, burning eyes, burning nose and throat) health symptoms at the two area emergency rooms.
Read the rest of this entry »

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