U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked federal environmental officials Thursday to ensure the safety of a low-income South Los Angeles community where residents worry that their dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds may be linked to noxious odors from an urban oil field.
In a terse letter, Boxer asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy to "immediately address these unacceptable situations using all available and appropriate authorities."
Boxer requested a response by Monday describing the steps that the EPA will take to address the chemical smells, which waft through the University Park neighborhood from an oil-pumping operation on land Allenco Energy Co. leases from the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Residents say they have suffered from respiratory ailments, headaches and nosebleeds since 2010, when Allenco ramped up production at its wells by more than 400%. Neighbors complained to state air quality officials 251 times over the next three years. The South Coast Air Quality Management District responded by issuing 15 citations against Allenco for foul odors.
After analyzing three air samples collected in 2011, the district concluded that the odors pose no health risks.
Allenco has declined to comment on its operation.
University Park is one of a growing number of communities with concerns about newly invigorated wells. New extraction technologies and rising prices for crude oil are motivating a revival of old oil fields across Southern California.
"These communities are frustrated, and I want local residents to know that I hear them and understand their concerns," Boxer said in a statement. "I will do everything I can to ensure they get the answers they deserve."
The action was welcomed by University Park residents including Monic Uriarte and her 12-year-old daughter, who suffers from recurring nosebleeds.
"We're grateful to have the attention of Sen. Boxer," Uriarte said. "If it turns out that our illnesses are related to those odors, we will demand that the oil field immediately cease production."
Angela Johnson Meszaros, general counsel with the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, agreed.
"Finally, this issue is being taken seriously," Meszaros said. "It's also sad that it takes someone in Washington to send a latter to someone else in Washington to get California regulators to do something about a problem that's been going on way too long."
Air quality district officials were not available for comment.
The Allenco site, which was donated to the archdiocese in the 1950s, is surrounded by affordable-housing projects and schools, including the Doheny Campus of Mount St. Mary's College and a Los Angeles Unified School District high school for adults with psychological challenges.
U.S. Energy Department records show that Allenco's 21 wells at the site had been idled in the 1990s because of low oil prices and calcification. Hydrochloric acid and phosphoric acid were used to unplug five of the wells in 2005. Allenco bought the operation in 2009.