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Bonhomme Richard fire released toxic chemicals into San Diego air, tests say

Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department boats combat a fire onboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego July 12, after a fire broke out while the ship was moored pierside at Naval Base San Diego. The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District says the fire released several toxic chemicals into the air in surrounding communities. Photo by Christina Ross/U.S. Navy
Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department boats combat a fire onboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego July 12, after a fire broke out while the ship was moored pierside at Naval Base San Diego. The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District says the fire released several toxic chemicals into the air in surrounding communities. Photo by Christina Ross/U.S. Navy | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) -- Testing results released this week by the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District reveal that a Navy ship fire earlier this month blanketed communities nearby with smoke containing toxic chemicals.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported Monday that as fires burned aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard earlier in July, residents were exposed to a dozen potentially dangerous chemicals, including benzene, chloromethane and acetonitrile.

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Residents of nearby communities complained of headaches and nausea during the fires, but according to a data review from the state of California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, residents are not likely to experience long-term health effects.

The fire mostly produced fine particulate matter, a common pollutant created by a wide variety of human activities -- from bonfires to vehicle emissions.

But the test results contradict earlier statements from the Navy that "there's nothing toxic in there."

Community members have organized a group called Navy Ship Fire Community Advocates and are working with several law firms in the San Diego area to explore the potential of legal action against the government.

The San Diego air district issued the Navy with a notice of violation -- likely to result in a negotiated financial penalty -- for contaminating the air a day after the fire started July 12.

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