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Air Quality Concerns Surround USS Bonhomme Richard Fire

A man watches as an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the “Merlins” of Helicopte...

Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class MarQueon Tramble / U.S. Navy

Above: A man watches as an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3 provides aerial firefighting support in the firefight aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard on July 13, 2020.

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The ship at Naval Base San Diego has been burning for three days, sending smoke into nearby communities. Advocates are concerned not enough is being done to help people.

Aired: July 15, 2020 | Transcript

The USS Bonhomme Richard has been burning for three days at Naval Base San Diego, and some advocates are concerned not enough is being done to help communities having to deal with potentially harmful smoke.

"The communities that are being impacted by this fire are low-income communities of color — we call them environmental justice communities — these are the communities that are in the top 10% of pollution in the state," said Diane Takvorian, executive director of the Environmental Health Coalition.

Takvorian also sits on the California Air Resources Board.

"It’s hard to breathe when you’re in regular smoke," she said. "If that smoke includes materials like plastic and metals and potentially fuels it’s even worse."

RELATED: Crews Battle Blazing Heat As Fire Continues For Third Day Aboard Navy Ship

Takvorian wishes county officials would treat the ship fire as an emergency disaster and work to get people out of smokey areas around the ship.

"There needs to be triage that’s happening immediately," she said. "Shelters should be made available to people who are COVID-19 safe, but this is an immediate need we can’t wait days weeks, months."

An official with the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District said Tuesday testing results have shown no "volatile organic compounds" in the air.

"Right now we’re not seeing a big threat but our advice to people is still the same — and that is if you're nearby and smelling smoke stay indoors and keep the windows and doors closed," said Bill Brick with the county Air Pollution Control District.

Reported by Matt Hoffman

Officials do not know everything that is in the air, detailed testing results from samples taken Sunday are expected to come back Wednesday.

"This would look at a variety of chemical compounds in the air so we can get a better idea of what came out of that fire," Brick said.

Navy officials said material like plastics and metals are definitely burning and they are working with county officials to set up additional monitoring stations. They have urged residents to follow county guidance when it comes to smoke.

People have reported smelling smoke all the way in Oceanside and closer to the ship, people have complained of headaches and trouble breathing.

A county spokesperson said by email Tuesday they have been putting out alerts to the community since the fire started on Sunday and have been working with federal officials to test the air quality. So far results have been “below EPA health-based standards” and the county is posting testing results to its website sdapcd.org.

The spokesperson did not say if the county was considering some sort of temporary housing for those impacted by heavy smoke near the ship. The county has extended the hours of its Spring Valley cooling center to help people escape the smoke. The cooling center, located in the Spring Valley Community Center, is open from noon until 8 p.m. through Thursday.

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

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Photo of Matt Hoffman

Matt Hoffman
General Assignment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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