Unique Emergency Deployments
One function of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is to aid state and local agencies in the event of an air-related emergency, and to that end, field staff are frequently deployed to disaster areas to set up monitoring equipment and protect and inform anyone downwind of the event. Below is a list of the many deployments upon which staff have been sent, from the newest down to the oldest.
Anderson Explosives Barn: Shasta County (Feb 2018)
On March 2nd,staff spoke with Shasta County Office of Emergency Services (OES) about an incident regarding the destruction of a two-story structure with a couple hundred pounds of explosives. Shasta County OES felt that the explosives were too volatile for transport and wanted to burn down the structure with the explosives in place. A mission briefing was scheduled for 0600 on Monday, March 5th and the destruction of the structure was scheduled around noon and would last a couple of hours. The burn was in a populated area with homes and businesses in all directions. CARB was mission tasked by California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) to deploy three MetOne E-BAMs to measure PM2.5, one Casella Microdust to measure PM2.5, and two RAE ppbRAEs to measure Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and lower explosive limits (LELs).
Oroville Dam Air Monitoring: Butte County (Feb 2017)
In February 2017, due to heavy and unrelenting rain storms in the region, the main and emergency spillways of the Oroville Dam failed, which lead to the deterioration of the spillway and surrounding structures. After the rain and lake levels subsided emergency construction began on the spillway and areas adjacent to the dam. The construction activities disturbed rock and material, creating dust and allowed natural occurring asbestos material to become airborne. Butte County Air Quality Management District (BCAQMD) toured the facility and discovered friable fibrous material on site, which raised the need for additional discussions related to air quality and community safety. BCAQMD contacted CARB for support in monitoring PM2.5 and sampling for asbestos to ensure the construction activities were not causing potential harm to the health of nearby residents. Portable nephelometers were deployed to collect particulate concentrations and asbestos samplers were used to survey the construction zone.
Valero Benicia Flaring Incident: Benicia County (May 2017)
On May 5th, the Valero Benicia refinery began flaring heavy plumes of smoke into the surrounding communities. A 15-minute power outage by PG&E resulted in Valero Benicia expelling 74,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air. CARB staff collaborated with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), CalFire, and Caltrans to deploy two Particulate Monitor (PM) instruments to locations downwind of the incident.
Redding Explosives House: Shasta County (Feb 2014)
Authorities discovered combustible material in a home in Redding, California after responding to an explosion at the home that took off a man's hand. The chemicals, gunpowder, primers for firearms cartridges, and other explosive materials found in the house made it unstable for deputies to walk on the property without risking an explosion. Sheriff deputies in Northern California incinerated the home whose resident had amassed more than 60 pounds of highly volatile explosive material. Sheriff officials consulted with CARB before starting the incineration with a remote-ignited flame and the fire went off without incident. Staff deployed four weather stations to assist with the smoke trajectory and real-time air monitoring instruments to measure PM levels in local communities.
Richards Recycling Fire: Sacramento County (Aug 2011)
A fire broke out in a recycling yard on Richards Boulevard in Sacramento in the early afternoon on August 11th. Firefighters contained the fire without much trouble, but the fire created a large volume of smoke, resulting in several of the firefighters requiring treatment for smoke inhalation. CARB was brought in to monitor the air quality in the area in the wake of all the smoke from the fire.
Fairfield Plastics Fire: Solano County (July 2011)
Macro Plastics has a manufacturing facility in Fairfield and on July 26th in the early afternoon, a series of empty storage containers at the facility caught fire. Several agencies responded to the emergency, including Suisun Solano County Hazmat, City of Vacaville Hazmat, California Highway Patrol, US EPA, the local Air District, and the Fairfield Fire Department. CARB was contacted to provide laboratory analyses on the thick black smoke generated by the fire.
Fukushima Radiation Monitoring (March 2011)
CARB's role in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear reactor failure highlights several different functions of the program. Although CARB does not directly monitor nuclear radiation, we do operate and maintain radiation monitoring sites as a service to the federal government. In this capacity, we were supporters of the Fukushima response by US EPA, the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA and other agencies. In the hours and days following the release, CARB staff were called upon to verify proper operation of US EPA’s radiation monitors co-located at CARB monitoring sites. US EPA also requested CARB to identify and coordinate the establishment of new, temporary monitoring sites for additional monitors being shipped in from other states. Finally, CARB led a multi-agency emergency management team that monitored incoming radiation levels for several months after the event.
Escondido Explosive Stockpile Remediation: San Diego County (Dec 2010)
In mid-November it was discovered that a man living in Escondido had been creating and stockpiling home-made explosives for years. The interior of the house was extremely hazardous, and lives would have been endangered should the explosives have been removed manually; instead, it was decided to burn the entire house down in an accelerated blaze so that all explosive material would be vaporized and sent into the upper atmosphere. The CARB was called in to conduct air monitoring around the house as it burned to ensure that vaporized materials did not contaminate the air at ground level.
San Bruno Pipeline Explosion: San Mateo County (Sept 2010)
A PG&E natural gas pipeline ruptured suddenly in the early evening of September 9th in San Bruno. The resulting explosion and fireball ultimately destroyed almost 40 homes and killed eight people. The fireball was contained within one day, and CalRecycle requested the CARB’s assistance with air monitoring during the ensuing cleanup. Field staff established a perimeter of air monitors to sample the air quality and check for the presence of asbestos in the air, which authorities thought might have been stirred up by cleanup crews. Monitoring continued through October 12th, when the cleanup was officially completed.
Trestle Fire: Sacramento County (March 2007)
A 1,300 foot length of wooden train trestles in Sacramento caught fire on the evening of March 15th, and the fire raged uncontained for two days. The train trestles consisted largely of creosote-treated wood ties and beams, resulting in a large plume of black smoke rising into the air. Sacramento, Yolo, and Sutter counties all observed minor smoke inhalation hazards intermittently while the fire burned. CARB and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) were called in to conduct community air monitoring and identify the major potential health impacts from the black smoke.
Air Gas Facility Explosion: Sacramento County (July 2003)
Propane and Propylene tanks exploded for unknown reasons at an Airgas facility in Sacramento on July 18th, resulting in several fires scattered throughout the facility. Despite the size of the fires and a fear of additional explosions, firefighters put out the blazes quickly, and the facility resumed operations within 48 hours.
Westley Tire Fire: Stanislaus County (Sept 1999)
Early morning lightning strikes sparked a tire fire within the Westley Tire Facility on September 22nd. The local Stanislaus County Environmental Health Department made a request to the State Office of Emergency Services for aid, and the OES contacted the California Air Resources Board emergency staff in turn. CARB staff arrived on-scene to perform ambient air monitoring to warn nearby populated areas about any smoke inhalation hazards. Despite a lack of downwind smoke, some minor adverse health effects were reported by residents in the area. Over five million tires were involved in the fire, and they continued burning until the blaze was put out on October 27th.