hazard to public health. That certainly seems strange, since crude
oil is known to be a toxic health hazard.
Huntington Beach has been an oil town since 1921 when Bolsa Chica
No. 1 blew in with a roar. Oil gushed into the air and townspeople
celebrated. Oil meant money. No one knew about the hazards of crude
oil back then.
Our reaction to oil spraying into the air should be different
today. We have made the link between carcinogens and cancer, air-born
irritants and lung problems, and chemicals and neurological problems.
Now we know that repeated exposure to crude oil can cause diseases
such as aplastic anemia.
This is hardly Huntington Beach's first oil spill. The worst spill
was in 1990, when the American Trader oil tanker pierced its hull on
its own anchor off our coast. At that time, we were well aware of the
hazards caused by crude oil. Vic headed up the bird rescue operation
and coordinated the volunteers who picked up oil-soaked birds from
the beach and brought them in for treatment. Vic brought the first
bird in himself, and I brought in the last, both western grebes.
During this crisis, volunteers were required to take a short
course on the hazards of crude oil and to don protective gear. Oil
cleanup workers wiping down the beach and rocks lining the Santa Ana
River and Talbert Marsh with oil-absorbent pads had to take several
hours of training on the hazards of crude oil. They were covered head
to toe in protective clothing, with gloves on their hands and rubber
boots on their feet. Yet even with training and protective gear, Vic
and I and others working around crude oil for even a short time
developed headaches, eye irritation and chest pains.
In 1990, we knew that crude oil was a hazardous substance. We knew
that crude oil contained volatile organic compounds such as benzene,
toluene, xylene, and hexane. Crude oil actually contains thousands of
compounds, but the biggest risk is from the aromatic hydrocarbons.
Trust us, aromatic doesn't mean that they smell good. These compounds
end up in gasoline and are the reason why cancer warnings are posted
on every gas pump in the country.