Category Archives: Air pollution

Now YOU can help monitor the air in Benicia and the Bay Area!

With major input from Benicia and area activists and experts, Air Watch Bay Area is now up and running…

Press Release, Wednesday, August 9, 2017
[Contact listing at end]

Air Watch Bay Area launches new digital platform for reporting and investigating oil refinery pollution

Staying informed about what’s in the air is a priority for Bay Area residents living near the region’s five oil refineries. As we mark the five-year anniversary of the Chevron Richmond refinery fire, a new suite of digital tools designed to reveal and act on air pollution is now live at: http://airwatchbayarea.org/. The Air Watch Bay Area website and reporting app (available for Android or iOS) build on and extend residents’ successful activism for real-time air monitoring for many of the region’s frontline communities (Richmond, Rodeo, Crockett and Benicia). The website and app enable users to:

  1. Report air pollution — rate smells, upload photos, and describe symptoms;
  2. See pollution reports in context, alongside chemical levels, wind direction, and reports from other community members;
  3. View the history of chemical levels measured by fenceline and community monitors;
  4. Contribute to an independent community database of incidents, while also submitting reports to regulatory authorities at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD);
  5. Connect with community organizations and resources to advocate for cleaner air, particularly in frontline communities;
  6. Grow the community of people engaged with Bay Area air quality and environmental justice advocacy.

Frontline community residents, in collaboration with the Fair Tech Collective at Drexel University and the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University, helped to develop these tools — to build capacity for broadened civic engagement with air quality. “Air Watch Bay Area builds on a community of people who are dedicated to refinery air quality vigilance and for the first time shows the Big Picture of all the refineries in the Bay Area,” according to Constance Beutel of the Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee.

Exposing oil refineries to public scrutiny
In a region where many are committed to environmental sustainability and health, local oil refineries too often operate beyond public scrutiny. Air Watch Bay Area helps expose refineries to scrutiny by highlighting air pollution data across frontline communities in Richmond, Crockett, Rodeo, and Benicia. As fenceline monitoring requirements recently adopted by BAAQMD come into force, the site will expand to include data from Martinez, where neither Shell nor Tesoro currently have fenceline monitoring programs, as well as additional data from other communities.

Air Watch Bay Area features residents’ own pollution reports alongside both historical and real-time air quality data, made available through successful environmental justice advocacy. The site is the first to present such archival air quality data, which are necessary to help residents “connect the dots” between chemical levels in ambient air and health issues that may not appear until hours or days after exposure. Residents from all refinery communities can make pollution reports, adding to available air pollution data even where monitoring is not being conducted.

Holding regulators & public officials accountable to public health, environmental justice
Ultimately, Air Watch Bay Area’s digital tools offer Bay Area residents new levers for holding regulators and elected officials accountable to public health, environmental justice, and sustainability. “Often when citizens file air pollution complaints, the information seems to drop into a black hole. The ability for fenceline communities to archive their complaints is key to holding refineries and regulatory agencies accountable,” stated Nancy Rieser of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.).

When people report odors or photos to Air Watch Bay Area, they contribute to a publicly visible “paper trail” of incidents. This public paper trail, alongside individuals’ direct reports to BAAQMD, helps Bay Area residents advocate for cleaner air. It helps foster community empowerment and ownership of data, to address persistent air quality problems. “This site will be an important tool for anyone researching and evaluating refinery emissions that endanger health in our community,” said Rieser.

New data stories: Giving monitoring “teeth”
“Air monitoring has become a popular answer to the environmental health concerns of frontline communities. Just look at the state of California’s recent move to increase community air monitoring while undercutting environmental justice groups’ calls for caps on refinery emissions [in AB 617 and 398],” says Dr. Gwen Ottinger, Drexel University professor and principal investigator on the National Science Foundation grant that funded the creation of Air Watch Bay Area. “The problem with that approach is that monitoring in isolation is toothless.”

For monitoring to really have an impact, communities need to be able to leverage air quality data while challenging “upstream” causes of emissions. According to East Bay resident Cheryl Holzmeyer, a research and outreach associate of the Air Watch Bay Area project, “It’s crucial that air monitoring go hand-in-hand with efforts to cap emissions and prevent the refining of tar sands and heavy crude oil at Bay Area refineries. Decision-makers need to embrace new data stories — bridging people’s lived experiences of health and illness, refinery emissions levels, oil feedstock quality, and alternative visions of just transitions away from fossil fuel dependency.” By making historical data accessible and bringing people’s experiences into the picture through online pollution reporting, Air Watch Bay Area’s digital tools offer new ways to contribute to such stories.

Please look for us at these upcoming events:

● August 12th, 12-3pm: Our Power Festival, Nicholl Park, Richmond
● August 24th and 31st, 4-7pm: Benicia Farmers Markets
● September 5th, 7pm: Benicia City Council Meeting
● September 6th, 7pm: Benicia Community Meeting at Ruszel Woodworks
● September 14th, 4-6pm: Benicia Farmers Market
● September 19th, 7pm and 26th, 6pm: Benicia City Council Meetings
More events on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/AirWatchBayArea/


Contacts:
Constance Beutel (Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee) 707-742-4419
Kathy Kerridge (Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee) 707-816-2401
Nancy Rieser, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.) 510-322-1459
Jay Gunkelman (Vallejo) 707-654-8899
Cheryl Holzmeyer, Fair Tech Collective, Drexel University 510-417-9348
Gwen Ottinger, Fair Tech Collective, Drexel University 610-608-2146

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More bad Valero flaring on Monday 5/15 sends 30 to hospital

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Residual Valero Benicia flaring reportedly sends 30 to hospital on Monday

By Katy St. Clair, 05/17/17, 5:15 PM PDT

BENICIA >> A residual flaring at the Valero Refinery on mid-day Monday reportedly sent 30 employees of the Industrial Park to the emergency room, a business owner said.

“I’m not happy about it at all,” said Dunlap Manufacturing head of operations Jasmin Powell, addressing the Benicia City Council on Tuesday night. “A cloud of smoke hit us between 1:30 and 4 (p.m.). I had to send everybody home.”

Dunlop Manufacturing is an Industrial Park anchor business that makes effects units and other accessories for musicians.

Valero has been intermittently flaring since a power failure on May 5, which initiated evacuations of the Industrial Park and a shelter-in-place at two elementary schools.

“We were affected severely … and we didn’t get any notice about anything going on beforehand,” Powell said. “And no one’s talking about it now,” she said.

“I did not know about this, Jasmin,” said Mayor Elizabeth Patterson.

While some on social media have been reporting flaring since the initial May 5 incident at Valero, no further evacuations or shelter-in-place orders have been announced.

Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon said that he wasn’t made aware of the situation on Monday until hearing about it around 4 p.m., but that Valero had given him “no notification” that day.

“I went to the refinery in an effort to gather information, and by then, whatever had been released from the scrubber unit was basically dissipated,” he said.

Lydon said he notified the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Solano County Environmental Health, “Who both began follow up.”

Lydon said that Valero received an other “public nuisance” citation for Monday’s emissions, but the air district could not confirm this.

Valero has not responded to Times-Herald inquiries, and no one from Valero was at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

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EAST BAY TIMES: Benicia: Valero to pay $157,800 penalty over toxic chemicals

Repost from the East Bay Times

Benicia: Valero to pay $157,800 penalty over toxic chemicals

By Denis Cuff, October 5, 2016, 5:53 pm
The Valero refinery is photographed in Benicia, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)
The Valero refinery is photographed in Benicia, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

BENICIA – The Valero oil refinery has agreed to pay $157,800 in federal penalties for improper management and storage of toxic chemicals and hazardous waste, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The violations included illegal disposal of benzene, a carcinogen, into an unlined storm water retention pond and not alerting the public about all of its toxic chemical releases, EPA officials reported.

In addition to paying the penalties, Valero will modify its piping operations by June 2017 to prevent an estimated 5,000 pounds of benzene from being released into the atmosphere over the next 10 years, officials said.

Evidence of the violations were detected during an EPA inspection of the Benicia refinery in May 2014 to assess compliance with the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

Additional violations included the company’s failure to determine if solid waste generated at the refinery was hazardous; the failure to maintain and operate to minimize risks of a toxic release; and failure to maintain complete and accurate records, the EPA said.

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