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Southland residents remain angry over jet fuel dumping

CUDAHY— Frustrated residents of Southeast Los Angeles communities filled a town hall meeting in the city of Cudahy Jan. 17 demanding action from Delta airlines and their elected officials after a Delta jet experiencing engine trouble dumped fuel over several schools Jan. 14. No one was seriously injured in the incident, however some residents are outraged, calling the dump another environmental injustice in a long line of injustices affecting Southeast communities.

Delta has been sued by teachers from Park Avenue Elementary School, alleging negligence on the part of the pilot for ejecting fuel over a populated area and Delta as a whole for allowing the plane to depart in the first place, attorney Gloria Allred said Jan. 17. 

Flight 89 departed from Los Angeles International Airport bound for Shanghai Jan. 14 when it experienced engine trouble shortly after takeoff. The fuel was ejected as the plane returned to LAX for an emergency landing. 

Reports from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest air traffic control asked the flight crew if they wanted to dump fuel before returning twice to which the pilot replied “negative.” The FAA also reported that its inspection after landing revealed metal debris in the right engine tail pipe, and that air traffic control was unaware that the flight crew did in fact dump fuel until after the plane landed. The FAA is conducting a more in-depth investigation into the nature of the malfunction and the crew’s response. 

“We know that our neighborhoods in this area are not new to contaminants,” said Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Unified School District school board member, during the Jan. 17 meeting in Cudahy. “If you add lead and arsenic, and the stuff that comes off the 710 freeway among other things, I think we have some of the worst air quality in the state right now, so we didn’t need to add anything to it.” 

Her words echoed those of community members present who became increasingly agitated as the Los Angeles County Fire Department and a Delta representative tried to read the organizations’ statements. At least one person was escorted out of the meeting by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. 

“This would have gotten a more serious response if it happened in a wealthier community,” said Nadine Escobar, the mother of a student at Park Avenue Elementary School. “Delta is trying to downplay this, but we don’t know what the long-term effects on the children and the rest of us will be.” 

Escobar said her daughter developed a rash on her face days after the dump and that they both have been experiencing difficulty breathing. 

Representatives of the county Fire Department told residents that it did not detect chemicals when they inspected the affected schools and said that the majority of the fuel evaporated before it made contact with people and the environment. They said children and school personnel were provided medical exams on site, but that no one elected to be taken to a hospital for further examination. 

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, whose congressional district inclues the airport, echoed what many present were saying, “Whatever has been done is not good enough.” 

“Someone already raised the question, where did it go? Did it just evaporate into the sky? My number one concern now are health concerns,” Waters said. 

Among the demands from residents was the implementation of stricter management of where fuel dumps occur, because the airline only tracks how many occur. FAA air traffic control protocol asks pilots to dump fuel in emergency situations over unpopulated areas. It is standard procedure, but avoiding  populated areas is not a requirement. 

Southeast residents Alejandro Fabian, Acelia Larios and others present expressed concern about the steps taken considering that there is the possibility that chemicals have seeped into the soil, plants and other surfaces on private property, not just the schools in the community. 

Delta is conducting its own internal investigation in addition to the FAA’s according to Delta managing director of state and local government affairs. She said it has also established a dedicated line for residents to file claims if they were affected.

Cudahy City Councilman Jack Guerrero called for a federal investigation into the incident.

“Many questions need to be answered, with respect to the release of jet fuel at relatively low altitude into an elementary school, injuring dozens of children in one of the most densely populated communities in Los Angeles County.”

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a notice of violation to Delta Airlines Jan. 17.

The notice alleges that Delta Airlines caused a public nuisance in violation of the agency’s Rule 402 and California Health and Safety Code Section 41700. South Coast AQMD’s investigation was prompted by community complaints which resulted in inspectors being dispatched to several locations. 

Complaints regarding the exposure to the jet fuel were reported at multiple schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Cudahy Public Library, and two schools within the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera.

By Jose Ivan Cazares

Contributing Writer