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Monday, August 13, 2012

Chevron Says Bay Area Air Is Safe After Refinery Fire

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge No danger here. - ALBERT SAMAHA
  • Albert Samaha
  • No danger here.
We already gave you the bad news today: Gas prices are ridiculously high, in part because of the Chevron fire last week. But there is some good news you can take in. Contrary to what you saw last Monday -- plumes of black smoke hanging in the air -- Chevron says you can go ahead and take a deep breath now.

That might be hard to believe, considering 900-plus people visited the emergency room the night of the nasty refinery fire, which burned for more than four hours. More than 160,000 people were also ordered to stay inside and duct tape their windows to avoid the toxic plumes. Still, the oil and gas company today filed its first official report on the fire, which suggested the air is safe to breathe. 

According to the report, which was filed with the Contra Costa County's Department of Health Services, five Chevron employees were sent out to check the levels of chemicals in the air on Aug. 6. All 17 direct-reading samples showed non-detectable Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), and Carbon Monoxide (CO) concentrations. A follow-up check was conducted on Aug. 7, and all of the concentrations were still non-detectable.

Chevron also keeps track of its hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen dioxide levels around the clock at monitoring stations. The gas producer reports that none of its maximum levels came anywhere close to OSHA's exposure limits. SF Weekly put in calls to department officials, but we've not heard back yet.

At 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 6, a vapor leak released diesel-like gas, sparking the initial flames at the Chevron Refinery's No. 4 Crude Unit.

Chevron apologized profusely to livid Richmond residents at a Town Hall meeting last week; since then, roughly 6,578 claims have been filed, said Chevron spokesperson Melissa Ritchie. "The majority of these claims are to do with personal injuries or property damage" and Chevron hopes to meet the claims within 30 days.

Many at the Town Hall meeting voiced their disgust and mistrust of Chevron and said they were worried about possible pollutants for future Richmond generations.

Jason Cobourn, UC Berkeley professor of public health and urban planning, says he understands their concerns."People feel these spikes in air pollutants, and feel these dangerous events in the context of the daily [air quality issues] that don't show up on county air monitors," Corburn told media outlets.

It doesn't help that Chevron already has black marks on its record. The Richmond refinery ranks among California's top 10 emitters of toxic chemicals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory. In the past five years, it has been cited by San Francisco Bay area regulators for violating air regulations 93 times.

In addition, it also releases an average of 543,155 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air every year, according to the EPA.

Today's report was filed as part of its 72-hour Incident Notification Policy. A formal investigation to determine the cause of the incident is underway, and a 30-day report will be made public, officials said.

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Suzanne Stathatos

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