Residents of the University Park neighborhood expressed dissatisfaction Wednesday night with the South Coast Air Quality Management District over its investigation of an oil pumping facility next to homes and schools that has been emitting odors they say have been making them sick.
The AQMD had been monitoring the site since early October and called a town hall-style meeting Wednesday to release its conclusions. It found that while there have been times that the site has produced elevated levels of hydrocarbons – some of them toxic – it hasn’t been at levels considered unacceptable by the state. Officials did, however, acknowledge the validity of residents' complaints.
“Just because these compounds don’t rise to the level that the state sets out as having a toxic effect doesn’t mean the combination of all these chemicals and the odor from these chemicals couldn’t be causing some kind of physiological response like everyone is complaining about," said Philip Fine, assistant deputy executive officer for science and technology advancement at the South Coast Air Quality Management District. "We acknowledge that there are health impacts from the emissions from this facility and definitely odors from this facility.”
AllenCo, which operates the site, voluntarily suspended operations at the site last month and has said it will take steps to reduce emissions and odors before resuming production.
That wasn’t what many in the audience wanted to hear. About a hundred people gathered for the meeting – several wearing t-shirts that read, “People not Pozos” – a Spanish word for oil wells.
Most who spoke said they wanted the site closed permanently. Many of them talked about the breathing problems and nausea they say they've experienced since the site resumed operations in 2009. Several of them expressed frustration with AQMD.
“It really saddens me that regulatory agencies that are supposed to be professionals, that we’re supposed to trust, didn’t do their job. It took us fighting and staying up late and making phone calls to get you guys to come out at this strength,” said area resident Angelica Romero.
Barry Wallerstein, executive director of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, asked for patience.
“I’m not asking you to trust me tonight. I’m asking you to let this work out over the next couple of months, however it works out, and then judge whether we’ve done our job properly,” Wallerstein said.
But residents say they can’t wait. Esperanza Community Housing, which has apartment buildings in the area, has started a petition to close the site. They said they have already gathered more than 300 signatures.