By Contra Costa Health Services
Air sampling done during the Sims Metal Management fire in Richmond earlier this week, shows elevated levels of potentially harmful chemicals and smoke particulates in the area.
Air samples taken by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District at Sims in close proximity to the fire found a high presence of benzene, a known carcinogen. While long-term exposure to benzene can cause cancer, the health impacts of short-term exposure to the levels found during the fire are not known, said CCHS Environmental Health Director Dr. Marilyn Underwood.
Both the air district and CCHS’ Hazardous Materials Response Team measured high particulate readings throughout the night. Smoke particulates can irritate the throat, lungs and eyes, particularly in those with pre-existing lung disease, such as asthma. Very fine particulates can get into the blood stream.
“All smoke is toxic, and all smoke contains particulate matter. Anytime we see smoke we should take precautions in order to minimize exposure,” said Dr. David Goldstein, CCHS Deputy Health Officer.
Existing community monitors in North Richmond, Atchison Village, and Point Richmond and fence line monitors at the Chevron Refinery were also analyzed. Elevated particulate and benzene readings were found by the Point Richmond community air monitor. There were no other elevated readings of any other chemicals that were analyzed or particulates on any of the other monitors.
Dr. Goldstein said we don’t know what the long-term health impacts from the fire will be. What we do know, he said, is people with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma may have experienced some symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath.
If people have concerns about the impact the smoke may have had on their health, they should contact their healthcare provider, Dr. Goldstein recommended.
The fire at Sims Metal Management, located at 600 S. 4th Street in Richmond, started on Tuesday, January 30 around 5 p.m. The Richmond Fire Department ordered residents in surrounding neighborhoods to shelter-in-place because of the heavy smoke from the fire. The shelter-in-place order was lifted the following morning around 4 a.m.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.