Tustin Follow-Up Study Finds No Asbestos or Lead Contamination Caused by Hangar Fire

Hazardous waste clean up at the historic Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin
Workers in protective gear take part in hazardous waste clean up on Sunday, December 3, 2023 at the historic Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin. The hangar was destroyed in a fire last month. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

A follow-up study of homes near the Tustin hangar fire found no lead or asbestos contamination in people’s yards and interior areas that could be attributed to the blaze that broke out in November and destroyed a historic World War II blimp hangar, according to city officials.

The city-commissioned study tested a sampling of 50 homes near the hangar for asbestos and lead in residences’ soil, dust and air. Another 30 homes similar in construction and age in Santa Ana and Irvine – outside of the fire’s impact area – were tested as a control group.

The fire affected more than 1,500 homes in the surrounding area and crews spent weeks clearing debris from streets, parks and residences.

No asbestos fibers were detected above screening levels in any of the homes, according to recently discussed results of the follow-up study.

One home in Tustin tested above screening levels for lead in an indoor dust sample. Brian Hitchens, a hydrogeologist with Geosyntec consultants, which completed the study, told the City Council during an overview of the results that there was no evidence the lead in the dust sample came from the fire and that it was an older home.

Three homes in Santa Ana also tested at above-screening levels for lead in a dust sample. The homeowners were notified of the results.

Lead was used in gasoline for cars in California until 1992, Hitchens said. Also, homes built before 1978 likely used lead-based paint, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and lead is still in use today in aviation fuel, he said in his presentation to the council.

The EPA, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the OC Health Care Agency and other government organizations approved the study’s methodology and are reviewing its results, officials said.

The full report will be released publicly once it is finalized, which Hitchens said could be within a month.

Health officials have said the hangar fire put the community at minimal risk of exposure to harmful contaminants, but residents pleaded for more testing, which led to the city paying for the study. Some residents paid out of pocket to have their homes tested in the weeks after the fire.

The city has spent $87 million on response to the hangar fire, with 59% of that cost coming from clearing debris. The Navy has so far pledged to repay the city $61 million for costs associated with the fire.

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