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Mar 31, 2015

03:15:32 GMT--Environment Pollution - North-America - USA

EDIS Number: ED-20150331-47553-USA

Date / time: 31/03/2015 03:10:19 [UTC]

Event: Environment Pollution

Area: North-America

Country: USA

State/County: State of California

Location: Oildale

Number of Deads: N/A

Number of Injured: N/A

Number of Infected: N/A

Number of Missing: N/A

Number of Affected: N/A

Number of Evacuated: N/A

Damage level: Moderate


What began as a bothersome odor coming from an empty lot in Oildale in early March has resulted in the removal of what public health officials say are dangerous chemicals. The early stages of residential development on the corner of Airport and Merle Haggard drives was put on pause last month after work crews discovered a black sludge about 7 feet beneath the surface of the dirt. Shortly thereafter, the residents of the surrounding neighborhood began calling the Eyewitness News tip line, complaining of a terrible odor emanating from the field. We alerted the Kern County Environmental Health Department of the complaints. "Until you called us, we didn't even put two and two together that this was what was causing your odor complaints," Director Donna Fenton said Friday. The agency responded to the complaints, canvassing the neighborhood and surveying residents. Meanwhile, an Eyewitness News records search revealed the land had once belonged to Chevron. A Chevron spokesperson confirmed for Eyewitness News on March 5 that the company had indeed used the plot of land as a crude oil sump until the 1940s. Operations began there possibly before 1910. The builder, whom Eyewitness News has been unable to contact, contracted an environmental consultant, which performed laboratory tests on the material and worked with the public health department to clean up the dirt. It took some time and it didn't smell good, but officials are close to declaring the lot is safe after 250 tons of soil were removed. But what was in the dirt? Three chemicals were found that exceeded established limits for residential areas - ethylbenzene, naphthalene and xylene. All are associated with petroleum products. Ethylbenzene and naphthalene are each possible carcinogens, according to the International Agency for Cancer Research. Xylene, which is used in paint thinners, is known to cause dizziness, confusion and trouble balancing. Most of the health risks associated with these chemicals only exist after prolonged exposure, Fenton said. There would not have been any exposure while the chemicals were still buried and the chemicals that escaped into the air would not have been concentrated enough to cause any lasting health problems, she added. Still, Fenton stopped short of giving the field her blessing. Her department, she said, will need to continue to monitor the excavation to ensure there are not additional chemicals in other areas.

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