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Toxic chemicals found in air sampling from Bonhomme Richard fire

Toxic chemicals were present in the smoke from the amphibious assault ship Bonhamme Richard fire in San Diego, according to a new report.

The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District determined the smoke contained substances including benzene, chloromethane and acetonitrile after conducting an air sampling, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. However, the fire primarily emitted pollutants caused from normal activities like driving a car.

Navy Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, initially said that there was “nothing toxic in there” from the fire. He later explained that the fire was first reported in the lower cargo area of the ship, which means that the area contained many maintenance supplies.

“There’s plastics that go around cabling, those kind of things, there’s different rags, there’s all the things that are used to kind of maintain the ship, clean the ship … and so right now we’re testing and we’re checking everything that we know, and we’re within [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] standards,” Sobeck told reporters during a press conference on July 13.

Although the San Diego air district slapped the Navy with a notice of violation for “creating a public nuisance by producing smoke and odors,” the Navy didn’t have many options at its disposal in controlling the fire, district officials said.

“Because of the magnitude of this incident, it would have been difficult to avoid these violations,” said Mahiany Luther, chief of compliance for the air district, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. “I’m not aware of any measure that they could have implemented to prevent the impact on the communities.”

While the San Diego Air Pollution Control District advised locals to avoid exercising outside and to remain indoors because of fine particulate matter, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment concluded that the risk the toxic smoke posed to residents is low.

"At those levels, over that short period of time, there were no known great health risks," said Donna Durckel, spokeswoman for the county's air district, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Still, the newspaper noted that members of the community have assembled a Navy Ship Fire Community Advocates group to examine potential legal action that could be taken. The group is also urging the military to craft an emergency notification plan for future incidents.

Sailors first reported the fire at about 8:30 a.m. PDT on July 12 and firefighting efforts continued until July 16 when Navy officials said that all known fires had been extinguished on the vessel.

A total of 63 personnel, 40 sailors and 23 civilians received treatment for “minor injuries” such as heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation in the aftermath of the fire.

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