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I’ve blogged about the June 12 Chevron pipeline oil spill that contaminated Red Butte Creek and the Liberty Park pond in Salt Lake City before, but concerns are again being raised about people’s potential exposure to toxic fumes in the wake of the disaster. Residents and others exposed to the crude oil as it flowed through densely populated areas of the Salt Lake Valley have consistently complained about health problems that developed in the days following the spill. Unfortunately, those affected and the government agencies charged with supervising the response will likely never know what people were exposed to or at what levels. The hazardous crude oil components turned from liquid to vapor and then were gone in days – before the necessary air quality testing was done to determine what was in the air.

The potential exposure is to toxins such as toluene, benzene, naphthalene and others. For their part, the supervising agencies, the United Command comprised of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Salt Lake Valley Health Department and Salt Lake City, maintain that air quality testing was sufficient. Interestingly, the state Division of Air Quality did not get involved in any spill response efforts or monitoring because it claims they do not have the proper equipment. Chevron claims that it began air quality testing the day the spill was discovered and decided that response crews did not need respirators while doing their work. Six days later, Chevron added air testing protocols outside several affected homes but has not yet been willing to release any air sampling data. Salt Lake City also did some early testing, but it was focused on explosion risk and dangers to response workers. Two days after the spill, the city focused on gathering more data and hired an environmental consulting firm to do the work.

Whatever the test results are, they are not consistent and the sampling was done too late to be helpful. The city also claims that even if people suffered symptoms in the short-term after the spill, those effects would have dissipated after the exposure ended. Some area residents, however, still complain of eye irritation, nauseousness, rashes and headaches. In any event, the damage has been done for those exposed and suffering but Chevron and the Unified Command are denying that a problem exists and, therefore, they are not addressing the problem. Those suffering deserve better.

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