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Jet Fuel Vapors Invade Virginia Beach Neighborhoods

Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103 pilots prepare to reunite with friends and family during a homecoming celebration at Naval Air Station Oceana, July 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kayla King)
Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103 pilots prepare to reunite with friends and family during a homecoming celebration at Naval Air Station Oceana, July 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kayla King)

VIRGINIA BEACH -- In an attempt to keep out the stench of jet fuel, Cristin Pullman's family of three is sleeping in one bedroom at night. Family members have headaches and congestion.

"The house smells terrible," Pullman said.

Outside, it's worse. The stifling fuel vapors wafted over the water behind Pullman's house when the wind changed direction in Brook Green Commons off Potters Road.

She walked past her garden where lettuce, carrots and peas are planted and growing.

"We're just going to ditch it," she said, shaking her head.

Just beyond the hedges in her backyard, under the Potters Road bridge in Wolfsnare Creek, a slick sheen of jet fuel floated into a water boom.

Pullman and her neighbors want to know what effects they can expect from the 94,000 gallons of jet fuel that spilled at Oceana Naval Air Station Wednesday. The spill spread to London Bridge Road, a ditch that runs parallel to it, and to Wolfsnare Creek, part of the Lynnhaven River watershed, before it was discovered.

Residents got some answers at a public meeting held at London Bridge Baptist Church on Monday night.

Dr. Heidi Kulberg, Virginia Beach district director for the Virginia Department of Health, told them typical reactions to the odor can be headaches, nausea and sore throats.

Representatives from the Department of Environmental Quality reassured residents they are monitoring the areas affected.

"We will be here for the long term," said Janet Weyland, deputy regional director.

And the Navy took contact information from residents with questions and concerns.

The Navy previously had said the spill area was contained. The Virginia Department of Health is asking the public to avoid all recreational activities, including fishing and crabbing, in Wolfsnare Creek south of Virginia Beach Boulevard and East of Lynnhaven Parkway.

It's been a long weekend for people who live near the waterway.

Eric Shea of Nottingham Estates off London Bridge Road first noticed the fuel smell Friday.

"On Saturday, it felt like the air was saturated with it," he said.

Later that night, his 6-year-old daughter had a nosebleed, something Shea said is unusual for her.

By Sunday, the wind shifted, and neighbors thought they were in the clear. But by Monday morning, the odor was back.

Richard Madden has been told by authorities that the air in the Brook Green Commons neighborhood and his home is safe to breathe, but he's not buying it.

He taped a sheet of plastic from the ceiling to the bottom of the stairway in his foyer to keep the fuel smell from going upstairs. He wears a mask when he goes outside. Madden said he has a sore throat, swollen sinuses and a headache.

"It's no joke," he said Monday morning. "We can't open the windows here; we can't turn on the air conditioner because it sucks up outside air. We're sitting ducks."

His wife went to work Monday. Madden and his dog stayed home.

"Where can we leave to? Nowhere. I want to get away from it, but I can't," he said.

A few doors down, Styron Daniels stayed at a family member's house Sunday night.

"My whole house reeks," she said.

Daniels is frustrated, too, with disruptions to her routine. Her house rattles when the heavy clean-up equipment is moved and the lights at night keep her awake.

"The whole backyard is lit up like it's daylight," she said.

Harry Savvides lives across the street from Shea in Nottingham Estates. His backyard overlooks the tidal marsh. He's been smelling the fuel for days.

"It's a strong, aggravated odor," Savvides said. "It's not pleasant."

He's concerned about what could happen after the clean-up crews move on and what, if any, possible damage there was to the natural environment that cradles his neighborhood.

"We would just like to know the long-term effects," Savvides said.

Several fish, birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians have died as a result of the spill, according to the Navy. Wildlife experts are assisting and taking precautions to keep animals from entering the affected area.

Savvides wonders why it took hours for the Navy to discover the problem.

"It was a mistake that should have been caught sooner," he said.

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