First responders, BAAQMD and Toxic Emissions

The AFD (Alameda Fire Department) is two for two. Or is it that BAAQMD (Bay Area Quality Control District) is two for two?  Or is it a combined failure to protect us during toxic events?

On November 4, 2010: we had a wall of toxic stink from Cardinal Point all the way to Bay Farm. My eyes, throat and lungs were burning… all evening. Despite the overwhelming indications that BAAQMD should be onsite during the event to take air samples and protect us from sucking in toxic air from, this time, crude oil (a controlled substance for good reason!), BAAQMD again came the next day.  Why? After the fact we discover that Marine Starlight, an Alameda company, was conducting an illicit (no required permit from BAAQMD) transfer of crude oil from one defunct leaking barge to another with equipment that was not working properly: a crude oil transfer is meant to be done in a closed system. Marine Starlight is the reason we sucked in toxic crude oil fumes for several hours the evening of November 4th.  They are being fined….after the fact. We still got to suck in toxic air with absolutely zero protection, alerts, notices, etc.  Despite over 25 911 calls about the thick wall of stink that night, despite what our AFD Battalion Commander Zombeck saw and smelled that night– BAAQMD did not come out during the event.  Zombeck told BAAQMD the source of the stink as black oil, an unregulated substance.  That was what Marine Starlight was telling everyone (they were lying and knew it, and knew their oil transfer was illicit with a pre-approved permit from BAAQMD) but it seems to me that common sense would dictate questioning this ‘fact’, right?!   Zombeck did the right thing, he contacted BAAQMD. Why wouldn’t BAAQMD question that the substance was black oil?  The description of the event does not correlate to a transfer of black oil, but does to a transfer of crude oil.   WHY didn’t BAAQMD come onsite during the event to sample the air and protect us?   Did Zombeck under-characterize the seriousness of the event?  What are the criteria for an event to be serious enough to warrant BAAQMD’s immediate presence? Or is it that hard to get our regional agencies out to an event after hours?

The 2009 FISC fire: During the event, from The Point to Bay Farm, we sucked in toxic air and were told to mow up the highly dangerous friable asbestos that blanketed our houses and yards (West End).  BAAMQD did not come onsite during the event. Why? When they did arrive, it was the next day which did the residents no good. Had they arrived on that Sunday during that massive toxic fire, they would have ordered an evacuation for certain neighborhoods, a shelter in place for others, and escalated the response to CalEPA to ensure a proper hazmat cleanup of our yards. Arriving as they did the next day, the only area that got the proper hazmat cleanup was the actual FISC burn site.  Zombeck was the Battalion Chief the day of the FISC fire.

Whatever it is, we need to solve for this.   We need effective cross agency collaborative responses to toxic emergencies, you know, the kind that put our individual, public, and environmental health at risk.  The AFD, BAAQMD, the SF Water Board, etc.,  are all here to protect us from toxic emissions and effluent both longterm and during an emergency; why are they failing us during emergencies?


About Denise Lai

Alive. Swim (fly is the best). Walking with my dog (weims are the best). Life is good. Would prefer people understood negative externalities and prevented themselves from creating them. Feeling the love anyway. View all posts by Denise Lai

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