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OC says Tustin hangar fire flare ups are not worsening air quality as clean-up crews survey neighborhoods

The city of Tustin, Orange County, and Navy are all chipping in funding to get clean-up crews on the ground after a former military hangar caught fire Tuesday, releasing toxic chemicals into the air for days.

The city hired certified asbestos contractors to assess and remove debris in the area surrounding the hangar and set up a hotline for people to call and report debris that needs to be removed or areas on their property that need to be safely cleaned. The crews started assessment and cleanup on Sunday. 

On Monday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved an emergency proclamation to help the city of Tustin with funding from their emergency dollars.

The former military hangar caught fire Tuesday, Nov. 7 just before 1 a.m. It smoldered for days and health officials asked residents to evacuate or stay inside after they detected chemicals such as lead and asbestos in the air. 

Over the weekend, the fire reignited twice, causing more concern about the air quality and safety for residents and businesses.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Donald Wagner told NBC 4 that the flare ups did not worsen the air quality or spread chemicals farther, attributing his information to the South Coast Air Quality Management Division (AQMD.)

“Air quality is, to use the words of a AQMD, ‘virtually back to normal’ and so as unfortunate as it is, it isn’t, to our understanding, significantly spreading any further or any more risk,” Wagner explained.

But people want to know how far the chemicals did spread and if their families are also in danger. 

“The AQMD has declined to test much beyond the immediate surroundings of the hangar. The reason appears to be that they are not seeing any reasons for concern in those outlying areas,” Wagner said.

But Supervisors Katrina Foley and Vicente Sarmiento said they’ve heard from several people who want the air outside of Tustin to also get tested just in case.

“We need AQMD to sort of step it up a notch,” Foley said. “We need to make sure that they have protective masks and the like but we also need to make sure that AQMD is doing testing outside of the area of the base. We know that the air quality near the base is bad, you could smell it right? But what about the areas adjacent—Santa Ana, Irvine, Costa Mesa.”

Supervisor Sarmiento spoke with the AQMD Monday afternoon and tells NBC 4 that the majority of calls coming from residents are within a 3-mile radius of the hangar, but if anyone in or outside of Tustin is concerned about debris, they can call the hotline for help.

We emailed the AQMD to ask what they are still finding in the air and if they are testing outside of Tustin. They referred us to the joint operation email, which we did not receive a response from Monday.

The US Navy owns the former Tustin military base that the hangar sits on. On Friday, the Navy awarded the city of Tustin a million dollars to initiate contracts and cleanup efforts.

A spokesperson for the Navy said in an email that they are on the ground in Tustin, but their priority is helping with funding, letting the city take the lead.

Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard said he and the incident management team are also looking into protective gear for residents as well as the possibility of loans to help businesses affected. 

A spokesperson for Orange County Emergency Management also confirmed with the Board of Supervisors that they have assessed threats to the water shed in the Newport Bay and do not anticipate forecasted rain to cause runoff of chemicals into the water shed. 

Anyone who needs to report debris or concerns can call 714-937-0750.

The Tustin School District closed schools Monday and will reopen campuses in phases based on clearance from the air quality testing teams. Some schools furthest from the hangar are cleared to reopen Tuesday. Click here for a list of schools reopening. 

Moving forward, Supervisor Sarmiento said the AQMD is working with the EPA to monitor and survey the potential consequences of demolishing and removing the remaining parts of the hangar.

For more information and resources click here

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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