Local News

Monday, Mar 24 2014 09:19 PM

Neighbors concerned about health due to toxic gas in home

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Elvia Garcia is living with her family at the Residence Inn Bakersfield after being evacuated from her home in Arvin because of a gas leak. She is concerned her frequent bloody noses might be a sign of unseen medical problems caused by the gas leak.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Arvin resident Elvia Garcia, 47, didn't realize the smell she and her neighbors have long smelled was from a gas leak. Garcia and her family and many of her neighbors have been living at the Residence Inn Bakersfield after being evacuated from their home in Arvin last week because of the leak.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

Residents on Nelson Court in Arvin have experienced nose bleeds, migraines, fainting and coughing during the past year.

They thought it might be caused by diabetes or pregnancy. Now they're worried about bigger issues such as cancer after learning they've been breathing toxic gas from a long-time leaking gas pipe.

Air samples taken March 18 from Elvia Garcia's home at 1312 Nelson Court showed toxic gas levels 13 times higher than levels deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At least three dozen people and their pets were evacuated from eight Nelson Court homes a week ago after officials discovered the leaking low-pressure gas pipeline beneath nearby Varsity Avenue. The 3 1/4-inch pipe moves gas from one oil well lease to another.

Officials have said the leak might be three months old; some residents said Monday they have smelled gas for as long as two years.

Garcia, 47, said she can't understand why someone didn't tell her sooner. She's been smelling the gas for six to eight months.

"Who will pay the bills if I get cancer?" she said.

Matt Constantine, director of Kern County Department of Public Health said the pipeline, owned by Petro Capital Resources, has left the community "at risk."

"Regardless of if there's the ability to provide some sort of violation or fine (for PCR), this action has put the community at risk," he said. "A lot of resources have been used on the county to make sure it's addressed. The key is prevention, and I'm not sure prevention was focused on here."

Jeff Williams, production manager for PCR, and other PCR officials, did not return repeated calls Monday.

PCR has been paying for the residents to stay at the Residence Inn Bakersfield, plus $50 per day for food and expenses, according to residents.

The air samples taken from Garcia's home at the corner of Mahin Drive and Nelson Court by the nonprofit Global Community Monitor and the Arvin Bucket Brigade found a mix of 20 different chemicals. The most prevalent was methane, which can cause nausea, vomiting, facial flushing and headaches. Other chemicals found included benzene, n-hexane, heptane and n-octane, according to the Arvin Bucket Brigade, part of a national nonprofit independent air testing program helping pollution-affected residents take samples using EPA-approved methods and labs.

The pipeline has been shut down. While Advanced GeoEnvironmental Inc., installs permanent vapor extraction equipment in the homes, short-term vapor mitigation systems have been placed in each backyard to remove gases from the soil.

Advanced GeoEnvironmental Inc. will continue collecting soil samples and working behind the affected properties along Varsity Avenue. The cause of the leak is unknown.

Even if residents are allowed to return to their neighborhood near Arvin High School, they're nervous to go home.

"People don't even want to move back in now," said Diana Garcia, 25, whose mother, Elvia, has lived on the block for nearly 20 years.

Ruby Garcia, another daughter who is 23 and almost six months pregnant, has been living with her mother since the beginning of her pregnancy.

She always smelled a gas but wasn't sure where it came from. She fainted twice in the house in the past five months, and is concerned for her unborn child's health. Her doctor told her light-headedness is a symptom of pregnancy but she fears it was too much gas inhalation.

Their mother has had at least seven nosebleeds in the past two months. Her doctor told her it maybe it was her diabetes. But her 9-year-old daughter, Julia, who lives in the house, also has had nosebleeds.

The Garcia's neighbor, Alba Marroquin, at 1316 Nelson Court, had 10 people living in her house at the time of the evacuation, including children as young as 1. Everyone in house coughed or complained of headaches.

Marroquin, 47, was always unsure what the smell was. Now she worries what it will do to her family's longterm health.

"I am absolutely nervous to go back in," Marroquin, 47, said. "I've smelled the gas for two years."

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