Thursday, July 22, 2010 | Another twist was revealed this week in the long-running and increasingly tense drama regarding the Seal Beach BP/ARCO station that contaminated its surrounding neighborhood with gasoline from leaky underground storage tanks.
The station’s owner only a few weeks ago became aware the station might be torn down and an important source of income for his family gone along with it.
Leaks from the station have been traced back 25 years, and residents have fought to get surrounding soil free of contaminants. However, in recent weeks BP/ARCO has indicated a willingness to dig up the contaminated soil and haul it away. Doing the job thoroughly, city officials have said, means tearing down the station.
But Waled Beool, who has owned the station at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Fifth Street for 15 years, said he and his extended family are fearful about losing a big part of their livelihood. Beool also owns another ARCO station in Carson.
He said an ARCO official told him about a month ago there was a prospect the Seal Beach station could go as part of the cleanup effort.
Beool said ARCO told him if the station were torn down, it would be too costly to rebuild. He said he asked about taking over another station but was told there was “nothing available.”
The family showed up Wednesday at a meeting among residents and county health officials at the Seal Beach Library regarding what should be done to clean up the pollution. The Beools sat on benches outside holding their signs and trying to convince residents the gas station should stay.
“Save Our Family’s Business!” read one sign held by a young family member. “Help Our Daddy Keep His Job,” read another.
The family came to the United States 25 years ago from Jordan, said family spokesman Adam Beool, Waled’s brother.
Pollution from a 1986 gasoline leak at the site has spread, and in December three nearby homes were temporarily evacuated when cancer-causing benzene fumes were detected in the residences.
The family was, of course, aware of the cleanup efforts and the test wells that have been dug around the gas station for months, but Adam Beool said the family believed the work corrected problems caused by the old leak.
He said company officials earlier told them “don’t worry.”
Now, he said, he and his brothers are afraid “we’re going to lose everything.” They’ve begun asking customers to sign a petition to keep the station open. “We are the people who are going to be lost in this situation. We pray to God to save us, to feed our children.”
BP/ARCO spokesman Walter Neil said today that until the county makes its decision, it’s unclear what will happen to the station.
“We going to have to work and to be sure he (the owner) understands every bit of work that’s going on in that station,” he said. “I know that ARCO is going to work very closely with the station owner and work on solutions.”
The city and a committee of residents who also work in environmental cleanup jobs, said the only way to be sure the contamination won’t re-enter homes or cause health hazards is to dig out all of the polluted soil, even if it means going beyond the station boundaries.
County officials will tell BP/ARCO how to conduct the cleanup within the next few weeks.
Emotions from both the Beool family and residents collided on the sidewalk outside the library Wednesday night.
While more than 80 residents crowded the library meeting room to offer comments to county health officials on what should be done to clean up the pollution, the Beool brothers and some of their children sat on benches outside, holding their signs and trying to convince residents the gas station should stay.
At one point, an angry Nancy Zaby, whose home is directly behind the station and was one of those evacuated, approached Adam Beool.
She kept asking him to take his family and leave the library. “You need to send your babies home,” she said.
Adam Beool replied that they were practicing “free speech.”
Zaby finally said “you don’t care about anything but this” and rubbed her thumb and fingers together and walked off.
However, not all the residents showed such animosity to the family.
After the meeting, neighborhood resident Cathy Goldberg approached Beool and said, “If there’s anything we can do to put pressure on them (BP/ARCO), I’m sure everyone in the neighborhood will support you. ARCO needs to fix it for the neighborhood, and ARCO needs to fix it for you. You’re a victim too.”