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Massive Blaze at Largest U.S. Port Created Acrid, Potentially Harmful Smoke; Putting School Children at Risk

23 Sep 2014, 4:29 pm

la port
Photo credit: Port of Los Angeles/Twitter

Monday, at 6:40 p.m., a massive fire enveloped parts of the Port of Los Angeles — the largest port of overseas commerce in the United States. According to KABC, the fire — which likely started from a welding torch — was extinguished about two hours later. At present, about 150 foot of the dock has gone up in smoke. And the smoke produced smoldering dock is likely hazardous.

Why? Well, the wood used to build the pier is more than 60 years old and it was treated with creosote — a tar-like substance that’s used to resist rot and water damage. While effective at preserving wood, coal-tar creosote is extremely dangerous when burned.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says toxins are likely contained in the smoke and ash associated with burning creosote-treated wood. Creosote is also likely a human carcinogen and limited exposure is advised by numerous heath organizations. Interacting with the smoke can also cause respiratory distress, burning eyes and other medical ailments.

Given the toxicity of the smoke, officials were warning residents in the immediate vicinity to remain in their homes with their windows and doors closed. They also told people to refrain from running their air conditioners, which could be another way for potentially toxic air to enter homes.

Luckily, it wasn’t too hot in L.A. on Monday. Highs topped out in the upper 70s and low 80s.

KTLA reports, “Because of wind shifts, officials urged the closure of two Wilmington-area schools — Saints Peter and Paul School and George De La Torre Junior Elementary School — for the day. Saints Peter and Paul School was closed for the day, the latter school was evacuated, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said around 10:30 a.m.”

Even with proactive measures in place, toxic fumes have only been reported in the immediate vicinity of the fire. That said, officials were continuing to monitor the air in the event toxins are recorded further away from the fire.

As of right now there have been no fatalities or injuries related to the fire, but LAFD is expected to remain on scene through the evening hours. They’ll be working on putting out hotspots on the decades-old pier.

As of publication, the Port of Los Angeles tweeted the fire was 90 percent contained.

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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