By Gary McCarthy
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, has called for an immediate investigation into claims that an urban oil drilling site has caused such harmful air quality that local residents have suffered respiratory ailments, such as asthma, spontaneous nose bleeds, intense headaches and nausea.
The issue, reported last month in the Los Angeles Times, concerns the Allenco Energy Inc. operated oil wells, located at 814 W. 23rd St., in the University Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles, that sits on a property shielded from view by a 12-foot-high, ivy-covered wall. The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles leases the land to the company.
The archdiocese did not return a call or respond to an email inquiry from a reporter by press time.
According to a statement put out by Bass, she welcomed a town hall meeting that was hosted Wednesday night by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and held at nearby Mount St. Mary's College.
"[However], I am deeply concerned to hear that children and families are experiencing dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds that may be caused by poor air quality and odors emanating from urban oil fields in South L.A.," she wrote. "We must immediately investigate these serious public health concerns."
Bass also noted that she, Sen. Barbara Boxer and local elected officials had sent letters and inquiries to the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In an interview Tuesday, Nancy Halpern Ibrahim, executive director of the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, which uses public and private funds to build affordable housing in the area, told The Wave that residents started reporting incidents about three and half years ago.
"The tenants and employees came to us with outrageous symptoms and smelling vile odors of either petroleum or sulphur and rotten eggs," she said. The physical symptoms were nosebleeds, especially in very young children. Lots of adults reported the onset of asthma, intense headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, stinging eyes and throat pain."
Ibrahim said that this corresponded with a radical increase in production levels at the drilling site -- according to the state Division of Oil and Gas & Geothermal Resources, production increased by more than 400 percent, from 4,178 barrels in 2009 to 21,239 in 2010.
At the same time, the housing corporation began to document their findings and subsequently 251 complaints were filed with the AQMD, Ibrahim said. Esperanza also hired toxicology experts, like James Dalhgren, former assistant professor of clinical medicine at UCLA, who said the odors couldn't be dismissed as harmless.
"The agency had to recognize there was a huge leap in this problem and openly acknowledge there are winds of injustice and toxicity here," Ibrahim added.
The Wave was referred to Tim Parker, a vice president of Allenco, who asked that questions on the mater be submitted via email. A reply was not received by press time.
AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said the agency accepts residents' statements at face value, but from their sampling they have not seen any high concentration of contaminants.
"We will be doing enhanced monitoring in the next couple of weeks," he said, "and this will take a another couple of weeks to analyze."
Meanwhile, Angela Johnson Meszaros, general counsel with the L.A. chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, has backed the residents' case.
"This is an incompatible land use; extracting oil from this fabric in Los Angeles is dangerous and risky," she said. "We're exploring all avenues and if there is an opportunity to challenge it legally we will engage the community and look into that."