Residents living in communities surrounding the Navy ship that caught on fire last week are concerned that their health has suffered irreparable long-term damage due to the smoke contamination that occurred.
Sandy Naranjo lives in National City with her children and fears that for days they have breathed the toxic fumes from the fire of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard.
"The smoke came into my house, my head hurt and we couldn't breathe," said Naranjo who said that even inside her home she could not escape the smell of burnt plastic and metal, which she says could be fatal to her who suffers from asthma.
Silvia Calzada lives steps from the Naval base in National City and said it was a black Sunday.
"My first impression was that we were scared," said Calzada on the images she saw from her hose. Her biggest concern was not the intolerable and toxic atmosphere, but her weakened lungs.
"There was black smoke. This was something we are breathing and unknowingly it will contaminate our body more," Calzada said.
In Barrio Logan, David Alvarez, former San Diego City Council member, along with other residents of the area created the Naval Ship Fire Community Advocates group to connect residents with lawyers. They claim that the Navy never informed the community that the smoke was toxic.
"The only thing that is being talked about is how they're going to repair the ship, but we want to see how we're going to repair our damaged community," Alvarez said.
The Navy provided Telemundo 20 with the following statement:
"We are aware of recent community meetings and will continue to work with community groups in San Diego."
Residents are asking the Navy to establish an emergency plan and an alert system so that they do not endanger their lives.
The fire at the USS Bonhomme Richard began on a Sunday and was extinguished on a Thursday, ending one of the worst fires that destroyed an American warship in recent years.
According to bioenvironmental engineer Julie Godfrey, it is worrying not to know exactly what was burning.
According to Paul Schalch Lepe, an otolaryngologist surgeon, "Everyone has the potential to be harmed because it is a mixture of materials, and plastics. There may be asbestos with what the ships are built with."
According to the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District, on July 12, the day the fire started, high levels of benzene were recorded, but not carcinogens that could pose a health hazard.
However, Lepe said that for people with pre-existing health conditions it is not necessarily true.
"People with basic respiratory problems are themselves susceptible to contamination," Lepe said.
"I couldn't breathe with my inhaler," acknowledged Naranjo. "We need answers, justice, and resources."
The Port of San Diego, National City, San Diego, the Environmental Health Coalition, and 211 San Diego did provide temporary relief to about 400 households in National City and San Diego. Those residents received a two-night hotel stay outside of the affected area.