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Heavy Methane Levels Found at Beach Project

Times Staff Writer

Methane gas levels in an exclusive Manhattan Beach residential project have been measured as high as 100,000 parts per million, nearly twice the explosive level, but pose no immediate health or safety threat, project officials said Wednesday.

State health officials agreed with the assessment but said they are analyzing the possibility that low levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals found at the site could pose long-term health problems.

Chevron Land Corp., which owns the property, halted home sales in March after discovering the underground methane gas at a golf course. Tests were conducted after the Chevron refinery in nearby El Segundo discovered that gas was leaking into adjacent underground areas.

Chevron Land plans to install a vapor-recovery system within the next six months to “suck up” the fumes at the Manhattan Village project, a spokesman said Wednesday.

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No Pressure

Spokesman Gary Luque said a three-month investigation found that the methane is under no pressure and that there is “virtually no risk of a Fairfax-type situation.”

In March, a buildup of methane gas exploded in a Fairfax District clothing store, injuring 21 people.

“Our situation is quite different from Fairfax,” Luque said.

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Fumes in the Manhattan Village project were detected 30 to 50 feet underground and surface readings were normal. No fumes have been detected in any of the 160 condominiums and homes already occupied or the 50 under construction, he said.

State Department of Health Services spokesman Rick Notini agreed that the situation “is completely different from Fairfax, because the levels in Manhattan Beach are low by comparison and are not under any pressure.”

Notini said the department is focusing on possible long-term health hazards, centering on the discovery of what he called “very low levels of benzene and other carcinogenic materials.” Notini said the department would make its conclusions within the next few months.

Clearance Required

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The state Department of Real Estate has prohibited Chevron from resuming home sales until it receives clearance from the health department.

Until the 1960s, the property was the site of a Chevron USA Co. tank farm, where the El Segundo refinery stored crude oil and other heavy fuel compounds in massive, concrete-lined reservoirs. The oily dirt, Luque said, is the residue from those reservoirs, which have been removed.

“At the time we started the Manhattan project in the mid-1970s, we thought the oil would remain inert,” Luque said. “Instead, it started to decompose and created high levels of methane gas.”

Altogether, more than 500 estate homes and luxury condominiums priced between $200,000 and $400,000 are scheduled to be built on the site by next year, along with a hotel, office park, medical building and recreational facilities. Already completed is the Manhattan Village Mall and about one-third of the residential complex.

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