by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
It wasn’t his stove, though. The sound grew louder and the windows of his home in West Long Beach began to shake. The floors trembled.
He searched outside and discovered that the Conoco-Philip Oil Refinery had begun to flare, releasing combustible gas into the air. Red flames and stacks of smoke began to cover the night sky.
Torres went outside his home and saw another refinery flaring. Torres frantically called his friends and woke up his neighbors urging them to call the local Air Quality management district to report the incident.
“Sure enough it was an unplanned incident,” said Torres. “We called the district but we didn’t get a call back.”
Oil refineries like Conoco Philip are required by law to notify residents when flaring occurs. Flares are supposed to occur only during an emergency.
“It was flaring the whole night,” he added. “We were really worried because if they were burning off gases, people were being exposed to this and that people could have gotten sick that night.”
The incident happened on October 2007. Torres said flares from oil refineries in this area happen more often than is reported and people living around the area are getting sick.
Last January 30, Torres along with members of the Environmental Justice Network of Southern California (EJNSC) and People’s CORE banded together with local community members, students, parents, and health experts during a press conference in Carson to rally support for improving the air quality of West Long Beach residents and protest the major oil refineries in the area.
The West Long Beach area is home to more than 48,000 FilAms, according to the Census.
The Long Beach area – Wilmington, Carson, and South Gate – is also home to nine major oil refineries and one of the busiest ports in the world. Large diesel trucks with freights are a common sight on the freeways in and around Long Beach.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) found that oil refineries in the area are the largest regulated source of particulate matter emissions, emitting more than 400,000 new diesel-powered school buses. Another study reported that Long Beach contributes 1/ 5th of all the air pollution in the Los Angeles area.
The inhalation of enough particulate matter can lead to respiratory problems including shortness of breath, asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, and premature death. However, critics have said that common air pollutants have no link to a person’s health.
Doctor Shipra Bansal, a resident physician at UCLA Harbor Hospital, disagrees. Bansal serves the local area and has seen a dramatic increase of patients coming to the hospital with respiratory problems.
“I’m here because I’m concerned [about] the health of my patients,” she said.
During the press conference, People’s CORE unveiled a recent study about the health effects experienced by Carson residents after incidents of local refinery flares. Almost half of the residents surveyed were FilAms.
The group found that 95 percent of Carson residents surveyed who live near specific refineries experience negative health effects after refinery flares such as headaches, irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, and nausea.
Nearly 75 percent of residents also believe that local refineries negatively affect their or their family’s health. “The rate of asthma in these communities is overwhelmingly high,” said Kim Baglieri of People’s CORE.
Baglieri said that parents are now concerned because their children attend the local elementary schools. Del Amo Elementary School in Carson is only a few miles away from the BP/ Arco oil refinery. Baglieri said that students and teachers at Del Amo Elementary School have complained of health effects such as nosebleeds and headaches, experienced during school hours.
“Many school days have been missed by both teachers and students, and the start of the school year was delayed due to noxious gases and odors in the air,” she said. Patricia Pascual, a parent of two children attending Del Amo Elementary School, said she’s seen first-hand what air pollution does to kids.
She said her children Mikala and Michael have missed a number of days of school due to effects from bad air quality.
“Both my children have been sick several times,” said Pascual.
She said her daughter, Mikala, has rashes on her face, suffers from stomachaches and often vomits. Her son, Michael, suffers from headaches and bloody noses.
“I don’t have proof because I don’t keep the bloody tissues,” said Pascual. “There is a problem here. We’re hoping that by coming together and organizing a strong community we can have some action here and get something done.”