Chevron Refinery Fire
Statement from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on air quality samples the agency took around the Chevron refinery fire:
The Air District had inspectors at the scene of the August 6 Chevron fire, collecting air quality samples from the surrounding area. These were sent to the Air District’s lab at 6 a.m. this morning, and the results came in this afternoon.
The results of our lab analysis of air samples from the Chevron fire show levels of these potentially toxic pollutants to be well under their reference exposure levels or RELs, and not a significant health concern. These concentrations were similar to the “background” levels measured throughout the Bay Area by our monitoring network.
The Air District lab tested these air quality samples for a group of 23 compounds, most of which have been identified by the state of California as Toxic Air Contaminants. The Air District regularly tests and measures amounts of these compounds through its air monitoring network. These pollutants are organic compounds typically found in petroleum products.
The Air District also performed an additional analysis to identify and estimate concentrations of any other pollutants that might show up in significant amounts.
Reference Exposure Levels, or RELS, were developed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as public health measurements based on epidemiological evidence and sensitive populations. RELS are set at levels that could impact sensitive populations – children, the elderly, or those with pre-existing health issues or respiratory conditions.
Local air quality monitors also showed near normal concentrations of air pollution from the fire, with pollution levels significantly below federal health standards. Weather conditions were favorable at the time of the incident – surface winds were light and heat pushed the smoke upwards where stronger winds aloft helped to disperse it.
As part of the investigation, the Air District has reviewed air quality monitoring data from monitors at the Chevron facility. Chevron’s findings were consistent with the Air District’s.
6:53 p.m. Inside tonight’s town hall
Bay Area News Group reporter Daniel M. Jiminez is live-tweeting the town hall meeting in Richmond right now. And our own Aarti Shahani is there as well. Shahani reports Dr. Wendell Brunner, Contra Costa County Health Services director of public health, says at least 949 people have gone to Richmond hospitals for care related to the fire, but none had to be admitted.
Daniel M. Jiminez tweets…
— Daniel M. Jimenez (@DMJreports) August 8, 2012
— Daniel M. Jimenez (@DMJreports) August 8, 2012
Jiminez also tweeted that the crowd was getting rowdy. I asked Aarti Shahani to confirm. She wrote back: “YES”
Here’s KQED’s Lisa Aliferis and Mina Kim talking this afternoon to Cy Musiker about health and safety concerns.
6:20 p.m. Urban agriculture protest
Chevron is holding a community meeting now at the Richmond Memorial Convention Center. KQED’s Aarti Shahani reports that more than 500 people are present. Outside the meeting, Doria Robinson, executive director of Urban Tilth, an organization that maintains community gardens in west Contra Costa County, said, “we’re not asking, we’re telling Chevron, they have to be accountable. They have to pay. Our entire program is in jeopardy.”
Robinson said the group is growing squash, zucchini, corn, basil, and tomatoes right now, the height of the summer season, and that they can’t harvest until the soil has been tested.
5:00 p.m. Chevron sets up claims process
Chevron has just announced it’s setting up a claims process for medical and property damage related to the fire:
We recognize the importance of sharing information as it becomes available and plan to do so at tonight’s town hall at 6 p.m. at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium and in ongoing community updates.
A claims process has been set up through Crawford and Company and we intend to compensate our neighbors for medical and property expenses incurred as a result of the incident. We will also see to it that communities will be reimbursed for the costs they face for emergency personnel who responded to last night’s incident.
If you wish to file a claim please call 866-260-7881. We will respond to these claims as promptly as possible.
4:30 p.m. Trying to get a meaningful answer…
Richmond Councilman Jeff Ritterman (of Richmond soda tax fame) told us this in regard to the Chevron accident: “I know from extensive discussions with the last two Chevron general managers and touring the refinery and talking to workers that they all take safety extremely seriously…”
It’s true there was a “but” at the end of Ritterman’s sentence: an expression of concern about the inherent danger of oil refining and a call for compensation from the company. But the point is that when you talk to Richmond residents about their community, as KQED did in June, it’s not an unrelenting Chevron hatefest by any means. Some people are resentful of the company’s checkered environmental history, some are thankful for the jobs the company provides, and some are downright grateful for the money it pumps into various community programs.
Many listeners of our Forum program today, however, were not so upbeat about the company after hearing Chevron spokesperson Heather Kulp’s non-answers to some specific questions. Take a listen to one exchange, in which host Dave Iverson asks — twice — whether it’s cause for concern that yesterday’s accident is the second within five years in the same area.
So I do think a fair question to ask a spokesperson for a multinational company of 61,000 employees and a market cap of $220 billion–when that spokesperson goes onto a radio show to talk to the community after a major industrial accident, and when that spokesperson is asked a very specific question about concerns raised by that accident–I do think a fair question to ask is:
“Right now, are you reading from a piece of paper?”
2:20 p.m. Health impact
From The California Report’s State of Health blog, Lisa Aliferis has put up a post on the potential health impact to the community. An excerpt:
Randy Sawyer director of Contra Costa Health Services Hazardous Materials Program agreed that “there’s all kinds of chemicals that can be in the fire. But the biggest concern that we had last night was the particulates in the smoke because they can lodge in your lungs.”
Particulates, also called particulate matter, are a complex mix of tiny bits of pollution and liquid droplets. In addition to lodging in a person’s lungs, they can also get into the bloodstream and cause heart problems….
My colleagues at Forum received a question…during their broadcast from a listener concerned about “toxic particulate matter that may or may not have been deposited in outdoor play structures, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, etc.”
“I don’t expect too much deposits on people’s cars, but if they see anything,” Sawyer says, “it can be washed off, and that should be fine for them. It’s mostly the material would be kind of oily.”
Sawyer explained that “shelter-in-place” is the safest thing for residents to do in crises such as this refinery fire. While there is still “some infiltration, the concentrations inside will be far less than what it is outside.” He says if everyone tries to evacuate at once, then everyone is outside “stuck right in the cloud, and that could be very dangerous.” Full post
12:30 p.m. Raw overheard video from yesterday, from AP via The Huffington Post.
12:05 p.m. Hospital numbers
As of this morning, we have assessed and treated more than 200 people with respiratory concerns in our Richmond emergency department, and we have been well equipped to handle the influx of patients. There have been no admissions to the hospital at this point.
From Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo:
Between 7 PM Monday evening and 8 AM Tuesday morning, DMC admitted 181 individuals, complaining of symptoms that included respiratory problems and eye irritation. Most patients were released after being seen.
Now that people are waking up, DMC is currently experiencing a second wave of individuals seeking services. We expect, and are prepared for, a high demand at the hospital throughout the day.
11:35 a.m. Aug 7: Richmond’s Green mayor speaks
Richmond’s Mayor, probably the highest-ranking Green Party government official in the country, released a statement today. “We live with this risk day in and day out,” she wrote. “I will be seeking a full investigation and analysis from both Chevron and independent sources. I am calling on Chevron for full and complete transparency and accountability in determining what caused the health and safety of our residents to be jeopardized. Our community is rightfully concerned and we shall continue to seek full cooperation from Chevron regarding all aspects of their day-to-day operations of this inherently dangerous and complex process of oil refining.”
10:22 a.m. Aug 7: City councilman calls for compensation from Chevron
Richmond City Councilman Jeff Ritterman sent us this statement:
First and foremost we are all very glad that there were no deaths or significant injuries.
The fire demonstrates just how dangerous oil refining can be. I know that the Richmond Chevron Refinery prides itself on its attention to safety and yet this dangerous accident still occurred. Given the smoke inhalation injuries and the inconvenience and worry suffered by Richmond residents, I believe it would be appropriate for Chevron Corporation to compensate the Richmond community with a generous financial contribution.
The last two General Managers of the Richmond Refinery have worked hard to improve relations with the community. Without a generous contribution to compensate for the injuries and inconvenience and worry caused by the fire, the improved relations will be jeopardized.
10:10 a.m. Aug 7: Chevron discussion on KQED Public Radio
KQED Public Radio’s Forum program did a segment on the fire this morning. The guests were Heather Kulp, Chevron spokesperson; Greg Karras, Senior Scientist with Communities for a Better Environment; and David Baker, energy reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. The show is archived here.
9:05 a.m. Aug. 7: Refinery reopens
The refinery has reopened this morning except for a section where the fire burned, and employees are returning to work. Visiting Chevron, KQED reporter Andrew Stelzer said he could see no sign of smoke and everything appeared normal. At a media conference this morning, a Chevron spokesperson said three employees were injured in the fire.
8:36 a.m. Aug. 7: Residents seek medical help
The Associated Press reported that more than 200 people sought medical help Monday night at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo due to the fire. And the impact of the blaze may be felt far beyond the Richmond area. Some analysts are expressing concerns that the refinery fire could drive gas prices higher.
5:22 a.m. Aug. 7: Chevron town hall meeting tonight
4:43 a.m. Aug. 7: Fire contained
The Contra Costa Times reported that the fire was contained by midnight. The shelter in place order also had been lifted, and all BART stations were open. The Times quoted a health official who said that smoke was no longer leaving the refinery site.
About three dozen people reportedly came to Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center complaining of respiratory problems. Contra Costa Health Services continues to advise those who have trouble breathing to seek medical attention.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage includes some of the refinery’s history:
The Chevron Richmond refinery was founded more than a century ago and is Northern California’s largest, capable of processing more than 242,000 barrels of oil each day. It is the third-largest refinery in the state. A prolonged closure could push up gasoline prices, which are already rising nationwide because of a rally in the market for crude oil.
Chevron has for years wanted to overhaul and upgrade the facility. But many Richmond residents and environmentalists have objected, saying the project would create more air pollution in a community that already has too much. Although Richmond’s City Council approved the renovation project in 2008, a judge halted construction work the next year, ruling that Chevron had not answered key questions in the project’s environmental impact report.
Chevron and Contra Costa County Health Services officials expect that the fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond will continue to burn throughout the night. The fire began at 6:15 p.m. Monday after a small leak in the No. 4 Crude Unit grew, then ignited.
There are currently shelter-in-place orders for Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo. However, Contra Costa Health Services says that anyone who can smell the smoke should stay indoors, bring pets inside and block vents, fireplaces or cracks.
We’ll have more information on the fire Tuesday morning. ABC 7 has a camera trained on the fire and is broadcasting images live. Photos of the fire have also emerged on Flickr, and the hashtag #chevronfire has been established on Twitter.
You can read the updates we reported throughout the night below…
9:40 p.m.: At a press conference, Richmond Refinery General Manager Nigel Hearne said a small leak in the diesel processing unit grew and caught fire. They are currently using nitrogen to push fuel through. The fire could burn through the night.
Trisha Asuncion, a hazards material specialist with Contra Costa County Health Department, said that they are continuing to monitor the plume of smoke, which is at between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. They are most concerned about monitoring whether there are suflur compounds in the smoke.
El Cerrito is now under a health warning, and not a shelter in place order. Contra Costa County health officials and Chevron will continue to monitor the air throughout the night.
North Berkeley BART, El Cerrito and El Cerrito del Norte BART stations have been reopened.
8:52 p.m.: NBC reports that there is one employee is injured, but not seriously.
- Contra Costa County Health Services Information
- Coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle
- Coverage from the Contra Costa Times
- Coverage from the San Jose Mercury News
8:45 p.m.: Richmond, El Cerrito, El Cerrito del Norte and North Berkeley BART stations are closed again. ABC and KGO report that there are no tolls are being collected on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
8:35 p.m.: The shelter in place order has been expanded to El Cerrito. The Kaiser facility in Richmond is also under lockdown.
Contra Costa Public Health Services says that a diesel-like combustible liquid is burning at the refinery. They advise that you should shelter in place if you can smell the smoke, even if you are not in an area with a shelter in place order.
8:30 p.m.: Oakland Police have issued a community advisory that smoke is heading toward the Oakland Hills.
From OPD:Advisory for the N Oakland Hills. Close all windows and doors. Turn off air conditioners. Bring in out door animals.
— KTVU (@KTVU) August 7, 2012
8:20 p.m.: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has sent five inspectors to take samples and gauge the toxicity of the smoke, where it is moving and if additional shelter in place orders are needed.
8:05 p.m.: We will have more information at 8:30 p.m. after a news conference. Chevron released a statement:
A fire started at our 4 Crude Unit at 6:15 pm today. At this time we do not have details about the cause of the incident. All employees have been safely accounted for and there are no injuries.
We have comprehensive plans and procedures in place to respond to situations like the one we are facing. We are working with all appropriate local authorities.
We will take all measures necessary to provide for the safety and security of our facilities and the surrounding community.
We are responding to this incident as quickly as we can and are deploying highly trained personnel to assess and manage the situation.
We will not speculate on the cause of this incident. Our priority right now is containing the fire and protecting the health and safety of our employees and community.
The Chevron Richmond Refinery is among the country’s largest and most important refineries, processing up to 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to the company’s website.
The facility makes high-quality products that include gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel and lubricants, as well as chemicals used to manufacture many other useful products. It is the largest producer of base oils on the West Coast.
7:57 p.m.: North Berkeley BART station has reopened.
7:50 p.m.: Chief Environmental Health and Hazards Materials Officer for Contra Costa County Randy Sawyer told KQED that the a fire was reported in a crude unit at 6:40 pm. The other flares burning are to release gases from the refinery.
“The main health concern is the smoke from the fire,” Sawyer said. “Any kind of smoke can be toxic and when you have a fire like this with incomplete combustion, there’s a lot of particulate that’s going into the air.”
Sawyer said they are monitoring the smoke plume to determine whether to expand the shelter in place order to El Cerrito. Winds are currently SSW at 5 to 15 mph.
Richmond, North Berkeley, El Cerrito Plaza and El Cerrito del Norte BART stations are closed.
7:40 p.m.: Chevron reports on Twitter that all refinery employees are accounted for and uninjured. Witnesses are reporting that thick black plumes of smoke are visible from the Bay Bridge.
7:30 p.m.: An official with the Contra Costa County Health Services told AP that the fire, first reported at 6:40 p.m., is burning in a process unit at the facility.
Randy Sawyer, chief of environmental health and hazards officer, says it’s not known what sparked the blaze. No injuries have been reported.
The refinery’s crude unit number four had an equipment malfunction in January 2007 that caused a shelter in place order.
7:15 p.m.: El Cerrito del Norte and Richmond BART stations are closed.
ABC and KTVU report that residents heard several explosions before the fire began around 6:40 p.m.
7:01 p.m.: Live video of the Richmond refinery:
A fire has broken out at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond. The Contra Costa County Health Services has issued a shelter in place advisory for residents of Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo. They are asking people to go inside, bring pets inside, close all windows and doors, and turn off fans, heaters and air conditioners. Residents should close fireplace dampers and vents, cover cracks around doors and windows with tape or damped towels. The Health Emergency Information Line is 1-888-959-9911. ABC has live coverage of the fire.