[Updated] Oily Sheen and Powerful Odor Reported in Vallejo

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By MarEx 2016-09-21 21:07:43

In Vallejo, California, the Coast Guard is investigating reports of an oily sheen on the water accompanied by a strong odor. The smell was strong enough Tuesday night to prompt local firefighters to issue a shelter-in-place order, and several residents reported difficulty breathing. 

The fire department posted a Twitter message warning citizens that “If you smell gas outside [you should] shelter in your home, close windows, turn off air units.” 

So many complaints of the smell came in by phone that local authorities had to call in additional help to handle phone calls, reported ABC news. "It's still unknown at this time what it is. Everything from natural gas to burning rubber to diesel, but again, we can't confirm any of those at this point," said City of Vallejo Public Information Officer Joanna Altman. 

The Vallejo ferry schedule was temporarily suspended while officials searched for the source of the chemical smell, and a replacement bus service was set up to carry commuters. 

The sheen took authorities some time to find. At approximately 8 p.m. Tuesday night, the ferry Intintoli reported a strong smell of oil while transiting near Rodeo and Vallejo, the Coast Guard said. USCG Sector San Francisco received further reports of a sheen on the water from Coast Guard Station Vallejo crewmembers and from other ferries. 

An initial helicopter search out of Air Station San Francisco failed to locate any sign of the sheen, and Coast Guard surface craft were also unable to find it Tuesday night. 

The USCG issued an urgent marine information broadcast to local mariners to alert them to the possibility of a spill. 

On Wednesday morning, the Coast Guard said that it had located the sheen, a 40-yard slick, in San Pablo Bay. 

Coast Guard Lt. Steven Dross told the East Bay Times that the substance on the water has not yet been identified and it is not yet certain whether it is connected with the odor. 

California Fish and Wildlife pollution investigators have also joined the response, the Coast Guard said. 

Later in the day, the oil products company Phillips 66 issued a statement indicating that the spill had originated at its Rodeo Refinery Marine Terminal near Vallejo. The full statement follows:

"At 8:00 a.m., a light oily sheen was discovered at the Phillips 66 Rodeo Refinery Marine Terminal. At the time, a tanker was berthed at the marine terminal. Our internal response team immediately responded to the incident and we notified the National Response Center (NRC) and the United States Coast Guard. Operations at the marine terminal have been temporarily shut down and we are working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies regarding the response. The exact volume of material released is still being determined, and the cause of the incident is under investigation. At this time, there have been no injuries associated with the release and there is no anticipated health impact to the community. The safety of the community, the environment and our people are of utmost importance to our company and these priorities will guide our efforts as we work with the agencies on the response."