Health Department Asks District Attorney to Pursue Legal Action Against Martinez Refining Company for Hazardous Materials Release
Thursday, January 5, 2023
On Wednesday, Contra Costa Health (CCH) formally requested that the District Attorney consider taking legal action against the Martinez Refining Company (MRC) for not notifying the County after the refinery released more than 20 tons of metal-laden dust into the community over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The accidental release of "spent catalyst" from the refinery began around 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving Day) and continued into the early hours of Nov. 25, showering the surrounding community in the dust-like substance. Samples of the dust taken later showed it had elevated levels of aluminum and other metals, which could have potentially caused respiratory symptoms in people who breathed it. Prolonged exposure to these metals can lead to health concerns.
MRC did not report the release via the county's Community Warning System or directly to CCH, as required by the county's notification policy. CCH learned about the release from media accounts two days after it began. Had MRC followed the notification policy, the Community Warning System would have been activated to notify the community about the hazard at the time of the accident.
"It is unacceptable that the refinery did not notify County Health Services of their chemical release and that the County learned about it through the media," said John Gioia, Chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. "By failing to notify the County in a timely manner, the refinery delayed an emergency response that could have reduced harm to the surrounding community."
"We rely on our industrial businesses to follow the rules and be good neighbors – and most of the time, they are. But when an industrial facility doesn't follow the rules and possibly puts its neighbors in harm's way, as in this case, then they must be held accountable," said Supervisor Federal Glover, whose district includes the Martinez refinery.
The District Attorney's Office has approximately 30 days to decide whether to accept the enforcement case referral from CCH.
In a separate but related move, CCH is also recommending an independent investigation and risk assessment be done of the accidental release of spent catalyst from the refinery. The Contra Costa Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) Ad Hoc Committee, which is appointed by the County Board of Supervisors, will consider that recommendation at its Jan. 12 meeting at 1 p.m., which is open to the public.
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