Fri. Dec. 22 - Today I was invited to go and see the burning seep fields for myself, my account and photos of that is below. Here is a map created by Vickie Peters, GIS, Pura Vida Community Media, using data of mapped seeps from the United State Geological Service (USGS). The seeps have been flowing for eons, and have burned before, but today more people live in the area around them and we have the ability to understand the health impacts from exposure to the vapor.
CFROG has been advocating for thorough and complete air sampling, appropriate public advisories and protection, and efforts to get the seep fires put out by communicating with our local agencies and officials as everyone is tackling this unique issue.
The seeps continue to burn in the Upper Ojai Valley and CFROG has received public reports of smoke on the Casitas Springs side of the Sulphur Mountain Road, where known seeps exist, and we have visually confirmed those reports and confirmed with the Ventura County Fire Department that they are aware those seeps are also smoldering.
HERE are our previous updates regarding the status of oil fields after the Thomas Fire and air quality samples in one area around the seeps.
I met Trevor Quirk and Justin Homze, and Trevor's mother-in-law, Lou at 8:00 a.m. today at Trevor's home in Upper Ojai. Trevor and Justin are part of the core crew that is the driving force behind the amazing community response in Upper Ojai for the nearly 80+ families whose homes burnt down, and others impacted by the Thomas Fire. Trevor invited me to come and see the "seep fields" that continue to smoke.
Photo: CFROG, Dec. 22 7:30 a.m. 1) morning mist in Upper Ojai. 2) Seep
Public officials and Fire department officials recommend the public stay away, and Trevor also asked that I do not provide details to the public about the specific location of the smoking seeps and I'm honoring that request.
Upper Ojai Air Sample Results
Ventura County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) has released the first air sample results taken in the Upper Ojai Area.
Upon initial review here are CFROG's questions regarding the sampling and results.
After reviewing the testing results, Dr. Steve Colomé, a member of the CFROG Advisory Board and an air emission expert said,
"The values nonetheless approach threshold values for one-day occupational exposures. While not immediately hazardous there are people in the upper valley who have already gone through a lot and had tremendous smoke and ash exposure. I would tell anyone near one of theses seeps to try not to be downwind of or near visible plumes or detectable odors---these compounds have a definite chemical or petroleum smell."
He went on to point out:
No sampling protocol was stated. How were the specific seeps identified? Who went out to take the samples? How long ago were the samplers evacuated and readied for analysis? What lab or labs were used? Was there an effort to site downwind of the smoldering seep? What is the distances from source and what is the length of sampling time?
It is not clear from the photography whether the polished ( Summa polished ? ) canister but it is not clear whether it was set up for a short integrated sample of a quick fill (15 to 30 seconds) of the canister or longer.
Also, it does not appear that the oil-pool or seep being sampled was smoldering. Just up the shoulder of the roadside were several seeps that were clearly smoldering with enough heat still in the seep for the plumes to be rising. The sample should have been taken in the visible plume of a smoldering seep. Note. the person taking the sample does not seem to be wearing protective clothing that would be more typical for a potentially hazardous condition.
Photo of APCD taking air sample
Update 3 - Tuesday, December 19 - two weeks after start of the Thomas Fire the oil seeps in Upper Ojai are still burning and there is a strong vapor smell in the area. Residents are concerned about what is in the air and what is being done to inform and protect the public and stop the burning seeps.
The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) took three air samples with a "canister" on Fri. Dec. 15 from three locations in the Upper Ojai Valley.
"We took three canister grab samples on Friday 12/15: 1) at 11100 Big Canyon Rd; 2) right next to a smoldering seep off of Hwy 150 (near Osborn); and 3) at the entrance to St. Thomas Aquinas College at Hwy 150 (we received calls regarding the odors from the burning seeps from the college). We are having a lab run an analysis that will look for BTEX compounds," said Mike Villegas in an email to CFROG on Dec. 19.
BTEX compounds include: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene and occur in crude oil.
Besides the potential for BTEX compounds to be in the vapor and particulates emitted from the burning seeps the presence of "PAH" compounds has so far been untested. PAH compounds are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, which are emitted when coal, oil or gasoline is burned (more info here)
"On PAHs, I spoke to a local atmospheric analysis lab, and learned the sampling for PAHs is difficult. Further our district does not have the equipment to sample for PAHs. I have reached out to the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District for assistance. We will continue to look into this issue, as time allows," said Villegas.
Here is more information on PAH's in burning oil from NOAA and their work during the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Reports today are that the "foam" the fire crews plan to use to put out the seep fires has been delayed and it may be some time until it arrives. Residents in upper ojai have organized and have located and mapped a four acre seep "field" that is burning and they are trying to "cut a line" of trail/road to that location.
Residents in the area who are concerned about the air or want to report vapor odors or smoke should call the following and let them know your concerns:
Ventura County Air Pollution Control District: 805-662-6960
Ventura County Public Health: 805-981-5221
Ventura County Supervisor, District 1, Steve Bennett: 805-654-2703
Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, local Oxnard office: 805-988-1940
Assembly member Monique Limón: 805-564-1649
Here is the current advisory from the VCAPCD regarding Upper Ojai: http://www.vcapcd.org/