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Vandals Blamed for Gasoline Spill Into L.A. River

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An apparent act of vandalism caused hundreds of gallons of diesel gasoline to be washed down a storm drain and into the Los Angeles River on Sunday, sending local and state officials scurrying to prevent the spill from flowing into the ocean.

As much as 1,100 gallons of gasoline may have poured into the river after a fuel pump in a downtown city sanitation yard leaked for an unknown amount of time, said county flood control maintenance worker Bobby Arnwine.

“We believe that up to 1,100 gallons got away from us,” he said. Arnwine added that about 1,600 gallons of the pump’s gasoline apparently had leaked out, but 500 gallons were contained in the yard with sand.

In an attempt to trap the rest of the gasoline before it reached the ocean, officials set up floating booms in the river at three locations in the Long Beach area. As the gasoline was being trapped, workmen in rowboats were laying out cotton pads on the water’s surface to absorb it.

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After letting the pads soak in the river, Gabriel Martinez and Alfonso Serrano guided their tiny boat through about two feet of algae-covered water and deposited the industrial sponges in large plastic bags on the shore.

“We’re mostly just picking up green slime,” said Martinez, one of eight workers dispatched by Crosby and Overton Inc., a Long Beach-based firm that specializes in such cleanups.

A member of the county’s hazardous materials team said that a small quantity of fuel appeared to have formed a light sheen around some of the booms.

“I couldn’t say exactly how much, but it wasn’t any great quantity,” said Irwin Biederman, a hazardous materials specialist for the Department of Health Services. “This is a pretty minor event.”

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As of Sunday evening, none of the fuel had entered the sewer system, officials said. Storm drains had been flushed out, and county health officials said a contractor had been called to finish cleaning up the spill at its source.

The gasoline leak apparently began Saturday night or early Sunday morning in a city sanitation yard on Mission Road, just east of the river. Officials speculated that vandals may have sneaked into the yard and broken the nozzle on a gasoline pump, leaving it leaking.

A city sanitation worker discovered the leak shortly before 8 a.m. and called the Fire Department, Staheli said.

The spill’s discovery came only a day after two neighborhoods in Long Beach had to be evacuated after four illegally dumped 55-gallon drums were discovered to be leaking a highly toxic and combustible chemical. Residents were allowed to return home after the cleanup was completed.

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Times Staff Writer Jesse Katz contributed to this story.


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