Uploaded: Wednesday, August 8, 2012, 6:50 AM
Updated: Thursday, August 9, 2012, 7:40 AM
Should SanRamon-based Chevron 'pack up and leave' Richmond?
Monday's refinery fire out, but community anger remains
|There was not enough time during a two-hour town hall meeting in Richmond Tuesday night to address infuriated residents' concerns surrounding a fire at the local Chevron oil refinery Monday.
The bulk of community members' anger was directed at Chevron, and many said the community would be better off if Chevron packed up and left Richmond.
Some speakers, including Richmond resident Antwon Colird, disagreed.
"Give them a chance -- they've given our community so many resources," he said over boos and shouts. "Without Chevron in Richmond, we would be just like Vallejo -- broke."
Another Richmond resident, Malik Seneferu, expressed his concern over the health effects of refinery fires like Monday's on his young family
and his neighbors.
"Someone earlier said, if Chevron leaves, we all die, but if Chevron stays, we all die, too," he said.
The meeting was held to address those concerns a day after the 3-alarm fire broke out at the refinery, burning through the night and sending
about 950 area residents to local hospitals with related illnesses.
A panel including the refinery's general manager, Contra Costa County Health leaders and Richmond's city manager answered local residents' questions, often over shouts and boos.
Several hundred residents packed Richmond's Civic Center Auditorium for the meeting at 6 p.m. to demand answers about the fire that sent thick smoke, soot and other toxins into the air and prompted the county to issue a shelter-in-place, urging Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo
residents to stay inside their homes.
Nigel Hearne, the refinery's manager, apologized to community
members for the fire and the concern it caused.
"Hopefully this is seen as a first right step to doing the right thing in the community," Hearne said. "Our goal is to be incident-free, and
frankly, last night, we did not meet that expectation."
Hearne said Chevron's top priorities now are determining the root
cause of the fire and ensuring safe access to the site for the refinery's
workers as well as preventing future incidents.
"If we can get to the root cause of the incident, we can prevent
it from happening again," he said.
Unsatisfied with Hearne's comments, many meeting attendees voiced
their anger and fears over the fire's impact on their short-term and
long-term health and safety as well as Chevron and the county's handling of
A couple dozen attendees carried signs with messages such as
"People's Health, Not Corporate Wealth" or "Chevron out of Richmond." Some
wore gas masks.
Several speakers who addressed Hearne and the rest of the panel
said they suffered irritation or illness as the refinery fire burned Monday
night, from sore throats and shortness of breath to headaches.
"I saw a plume of smoke about 60 feet high ... with dirty air for
me to breathe," said North Richmond resident the Rev. Kenneth Davis, of North
Richmond Missionary Baptist Church. "How long can I hold my breath? What
about our dogs, our cats, our horses -- what about our children?"
In response to this and similar comments, Hearne repeatedly
claimed responsibility for the fire and said Chevron is working to find out
what caused it. He also noted that Chevron has set up a claims form process
to cover health care expenses and any property damage caused by the fire and
smoke. Residents are encouraged to call (866) 260-7881 for more information.
Several community members also took issue with the county's
emergency warning system, which alerted residents to the shelter-in-place
advisory. About 20,000 automated warning calls went out over the county's
emergency alert system, county officials said.
Several residents said they received the county's automated phone
call 30 minutes after the fire was reported, if any.
"I didn't get a phone call -- I did not hear sirens until about 7
o'clock," Richmond resident Donna Symon said. Like many others who addressed
the panel, Symon demanded more information about the toxins emitted during
Earlier, Jim McKay of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District
told the audience that tests had found 23 compounds in the air during the
But Chief Environmental and Hazardous Materials Officer Randy
Sawyer said detectable levels of compounds such as ethanol and benzene were
below harmful levels during the fire. Hearne described the compounds released
Wendell Brunner, County Health Services' public health director,
advised residents to wash off any residual soot from the fire on outdoor
furniture with "soap and water", a comment that prompted shouts and boos from
Meanwhile, the air quality in western Contra Costa County has been determined safe after test results for 23 petroleum-related pollutants were analyzed
Tuesday after a fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond on Monday night, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The air quality has been tested and determined not to be a significant health concern, with potentially toxic pollutants found to be well under levels that could impact sensitive populations, the air district said in a statement.
Air samples were taken by health services officials Tuesday morning and tested for a group of 23 compounds identified by the state of
California to be Toxic Air Contaminants. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District tested pollutants which are organic compounds typically found in petroleum products and also conducted additional analysis to identify and estimate concentrations of any other pollutants that might show up in significant amounts in the aftermath of the petroleum fire, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The air district inspectors collected samples of the air and tested them in the district's lab. Inspectors announced Tuesday afternoon that pollution levels were found to be well below the federal health standards.
The Contra Costa County Health Services tests which track hydrogen sulfate and volatile organic compounds both came up negative, said a health
More than 500 people - more than 300 at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo and 200-plus at Kaiser Permanente in Richmond - were treated for
While Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll takers were sheltering in place to avoid unhealthy air from a fire burning at the nearby Richmond Chevron refinery Monday evening, motorists crossed the toll plaza without paying -- but bills are in the mail, a Caltrans spokesman said.
The fire, which broke out at the oil refinery at 6:30 p.m., prompted a shelter-in-place order to residents in nearby areas, which affected toll takers at the bridge.
Cash-paying drivers, who drove past empty tollbooths as employees were hunkered down in the toll plaza office, will be billed the $5 toll,
Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said.
"It's handled similarly to when a person crosses without paying," except no fine will be attached to the bill for Monday night's "special circumstances," Haus said.
A camera takes a photo of license plates that cross without paying, and a bill is sent to the home connected to those plates -- usually with a fine reaching about $75, Haus said.
The $5 bill should reach mailboxes in a few days or by early next week, Haus said.
Motorists with electronic FasTrak passes crossed the bridge as usual and should not receive bills or notices, he said.
The California Highway Patrol reported no major incidents on the bridge or span leading up to the toll plaza while the shelter-in-place orders were issued.
The order was lifted around 11:15 p.m., according to the Contra Costa Health Department.
— Bay City News Service
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