Monday’s massive Chevron refinery fire in Richmond sent hundreds of people to hospitals while others scrambled to places that were deemed safe. Now a day later, residents, environmentalists and elected officials in the region’s refinery belt took aim yet again at Contra’s Costa’s community warning system.
A report was cited Tuesday that is filled with issues concerning spotty alerts, silent sirens and tardy phone calls during Monday’s fire that made more than 560 people seek treatment for respiratory problems at different hospitals.
Safety is a big concern and both the residents and critics question whether Contra Costa and its four oil refineries have an adequate warning system. While the debate continues, the San Ramon-based oil giant said it was too soon to say what caused the toxic fire. This was the second level 3 incident- the county’s most dangerous ranking-at the refinery’s No. 4 crude unit that processes diesel crude oil since 2007.
As of Tuesday morning, fire crews extinguished the fire but kept watch over a controlled burn at the charred site. According to pollution officials, early results show that emissions from the fire did not exceed health standards, however, it was reported that more than 560 people had sought treatment for respiratory problems at hospitals by the end of Tuesday afternoon.
In the eyes of Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, who resides across Interstate 580 from the refinery in Point Richmond, the community warning system is a total failure. Butt got an automated call at 9:30 p.m.; three hours after the fire had started. “It’s an absolute disaster. It’s never functioned properly. The last time this happened in 2007, there was all kinds of criticism then, and the people responsible were pledging to get them all fixed. Some of the same problems arose, and some new problems arose.”
With issues dealing with the automated phone calls and the Richmond saying that the system is deficient, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday afternoon that it will launch an investigation into the accident that could result in stiff fines against Chevron. Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for the EPA’s regional headquarters in San Francisco, said “There’s a history of violations at the facility that have led to enforcement actions.”
In 2003, for example, Chevron was required to pay $275 million in a consent decree with the EPA to settle violations of the Clean Air Act and upgrade its refineries in Richmond and elsewhere. Three years earlier, the EPA fined Chevron $20,000 for failing to immediately notify officials of a 500-pound leak of sulfur dioxide from the Richmond plant. And in 1998, Chevron paid $540,000 to settle a water pollution case stemming from the Richmond refinery in which unfiltered wastewater was discharged into San Francisco Bay.
Hospitals had to deal with overcrowded emergency rooms, such as the Doctor Medical Center in San Pablo. Patients filled the lobby of the emergency room and spilled out onto the sidewalk. Both 18 year-old Tremani Hughes of Richmond and his grandmother, 65 year-old Julia Forte, were waiting to be treated. “I have a headache, my eyes are burning, and my voice is going out,” said Hughes, who was at a Richmond park when the smoke started pouring over the city.
Chevron announced in a statement on Tuesday that they are setting up a claims process in order to “compensate our neighbors for medical and property expenses incurred as a result of the incident,” as well as to compensate nearby cities for the cost of their emergency response crews. Those who wish to file a claim should call 866-260-7881, the statement said. People also stood in line outside the office of attorney R. Nicholas Haney at 39th Street and Macdonald Avenue, where handwritten signs in the window advertised help with Chevron fire claims.
Chevron Oil Refinery Fire in Richmond, California
More than 900 people have sought medical treatment following a massive fire at a Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California. Tens of thousands of area residents were ordered to stay in their homes with the windows and doors closed after a series of blasts Monday sparked blazing fires that sent huge plumes of smoke. Chevron now says the situation is under control.
Chevron Refinery Catches Fire (Richmond California)
Chevron Refinery fire.