Levine Wants EPA Emergency Team to Assess Vapors

Times Staff Writer

Rep. Mel Levine (D-Los Angeles) said he has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to send an emergency response team to assess the extent of hydrocarbon vapor seepage in El Segundo and Manhattan Beach.

On a fact-finding tour earlier this week, the congressman said that while he does not believe an actual emergency exists, "I think the problem here has become serious enough that the federal government should be prepared to define the scope and severity of the problem and spell out possible solutions. We need to have someone there who has absolutely no ties to anyone who might have liability for the problem."

But an EPA spokesman said he is not certain the agency will get involved.

Areas in both cities have been revealed in recent weeks to be sites of hydrocarbon vapor migration. El Segundo has a pool of liquid hydrocarbons seeping into its manufacturing district from the nearby Chevron USA Inc. refinery and is the site of an extensive hydrocarbon vapor plume. Manhattan Beach discovered potentially explosive levels of the gasoline-type vapors along The Strand in the El Porto area about 10 days ago. The source of the vapors has not yet been determined.

No Request Received

Regional EPA spokesman Terry Wilson said the San Francisco office has not yet received a formal request from the congressman and is unsure whether the EPA would grant such a request.

"We have a situation here where local and regional agencies and Chevron itself are cooperating in the testing and cleanup efforts," Wilson said. "I don't know that there's a need for the federal government to step in. We'll have to consider the request when we receive it."

Levine said that in addition to requesting federal involvement he has also introduced "community right-to-know" legislation that would require manufacturers of potentially hazardous materials to file "all possible information" on the storage and handling of such materials with communities that could be affected. Those communities, in turn, would be required to make that information available to the public.

Levine, who is co-authoring the bill with Congressman James Florio (D-New Jersey), said the bill is designed to prevent a recurrence of what happened in El Segundo, where Chevron officials knew of the hydrocarbon pool for three years before city officials discovered its existence last April. The information was not made public until late last month.

Vapor in Homes

In Manhattan Beach, 164 of the 500 homes in the El Porto area have been inspected since Saturday, and high levels of the vapors discovered at four homes along The Strand, with one home "pegging out the meter at 10,000 parts per million," according to Manhattan Beach Assistant Fire Chief Keith Hackamack. The other three homes, he said, were in the 2,000 ppm range. Homes in the area are being inspected as part of an extensive survey similar to that being conducted in El Segundo, where independent consultants will be conducting air, water, soil, and structure tests to determine the extent and level of hydrocarbon contamination.

Chevron officials had stated previously that 10,000 ppm was the level at which such fumes become explosive. But this week they said that the vapors have since been determined to be "almost definitely gasoline-based," which, they said, do not become explosive until 14,000 ppm.

Hackamack said that all four homes are between 41st and 43rd streets, only a few blocks from the initial discovery site at 45th Street and The Strand. The homes, which are built into a hillside, were all found to have vapors entering through cracks in the concrete block retaining walls that protect the structures against hillside soil, he said.

Walls Being Sealed

At 4120 The Strand, where the highest levels were discovered, he said, officials are resealing the wall to prevent vapors from reentering.

"There's no doubt that fumes are all along the soil in that area," he said. "The only reason we didn't find fumes in the other hillside homes there was because they had good retaining walls with no cracks."

Hackamack said the survey also turned up 45 minor leaks of natural gas, mostly from stove lines and water heaters.

Manhattan Beach officials will brief residents on plans for extended testing at a public hearing Friday at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

Meanwhile, El Segundo officials have begun drilling the first of several observation and vapor wells to determine the extent and severity of the liquid hydrocarbon pool and vapor plume.

El Segundo Fire Chief Bob Marsh said that independent consultants for both Chevron and the city began drilling wells on Wednesday, including an observation well--which will reach to the water table--at El Segundo Avenue and Main Street, and two 10- to 20-foot vapor wells on the 300 block of Main Street.

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