Local News

Friday, May 09 2014 07:12 PM

Arvin air sample results show gas leak spewed toxins

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Andy Lara,right, listens May 7 as a PCR spokesman told the Arvin City Council that the company is keeping displaced families updated on the gas leak situation in his neighborhood on Nelson Court. Lara would later tell the council the families have not been given any updates.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine addressed the Arvin City Council May 7 on the issue of the gas leak near Varsity Avenue and helped clear up questions from residents. Kern County 5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez is at lower left.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

Kern County Environmental Health Services released an analysis of air samples in Arvin homes -- eight weeks after residents were evacuated because of a gas leak -- that found high levels of at least two toxic chemicals: benzene and naphthalene.

The air sample results were taken on three dates -- March, 24 and 31, and April 15 -- by Advanced GeoEnvironmental Inc., a company hired by Petro Capital Resources LLC, the owner of the pipeline, and provided to the county. When PCR refused to release the results, the county did, instead, on Thursday.

The 40-year-old, half-mile pipeline runs under Varsity Avenue and was found leaking March 11. Mandatory evacuations of eight homes on nearby Nelson Court -- affecting more than three dozen people -- were enforced March 18.

Some residents said the pipeline may have been leaking for up to two years. The pipeline carried gas from one oil field to another where it was eventually flared off. It has been closed down.

In four of the homes, high levels of benzene were found. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause a variety of cancers, some of which take years to develop.

A total of 13.3 micrograms per cubic meter of benzene were found in the homes; the Environmental Protection Agency recommends a limit of only .31 micrograms per cubic meter.

Exposure to benzene for a day, or even hours, can cause a reduced white blood cell count, weakening the immune system, said Mark Chernaik, a consulting scientist for California-based Global Community Monitoring, who reviewed PCR's data at the request of The Californian. The a nonprofit helps communities with environmental issues.

Naphthalene also was found in four homes. Exposure to that compound, which is found in fuels and mothballs, may damage or destroy red blood cells.

The analysis did not include addresses of affected homes or specify which toxins were found in which homes.

Vicky Furnish, hazardous materials program supervisor for environmental health, said the county sought legal counsel before releasing the data. After getting approval Thursday, the data was released to the public and the City of Arvin.

The air samples only include data taken up to April 15. The air samples taken April 30 and May 1 by Advanced GeoEnvironmental have not been released to the county, and therefore PCR has not released them, Furnish said.

PCR spokesman Larry Pickett said Friday the oil company does not plan to release the air sample results.

Other toxic chemicals found in the homes included toluene, xylene, hexane and heptane.

Remediation efforts continue but there is no estimate on when residents may return to their homes.

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