Category Archives: Valero Benicia Refinery

Larnie Fox: We would simply like to know what is in the air

Submitted by the author…


By Larnie Fox, June 25, 2018

Larnie Fox, Benicia

As a citizen of Benicia who lives close to a refinery I, like many other Benicians, would simply like to know what is in the air that we breathe.

At the Benicia City Council meeting last Tuesday, 6/19/18, the Council missed an excellent opportunity to get us that information. Valero clearly does not want us to know what is in the air we breathe. Unfortunately Tom Campbell joined Mark Hughes and Alan Schwartzman in opposing the proposed Industrial Safety Ordinance. Tom did say that he would vote for such an ordinance in November “if Valero doesn’t act”. I have no doubt that Valero will “act”, but I doubt that it will act in such a way that gets us real-time, publicly accessible air-quality monitors in our neighborhoods. People in our community have been working to get such monitors for close to twenty years. Valero has consistently hampered efforts in that direction. These are the simple facts. It raises the simple question: why does Valero not want us to know what is in our air?

My wife and I are not part of the ISO Working Group, but we and scores of Benicians supporting an Industrial Safety Ordinance sat through the marathon Council meeting last Tuesday until the wee hours of the morning.

  • We heard a very detailed, commonsense, comprehensive proposal for an ISO that included both fence-line and community air monitors and a “seat at the table” that would give our representatives a voice and access to information about events at the refinery.
  • We heard requests from City Council members for Valero to provide more information about the May 5, 2017 flaring incident, which prompted shelter-in-place warnings in our schools and evacuations and sent residents to the hospital, and explain why such information had not already been provided.
  • We heard Valero stonewalling those requests to the obvious frustration of all five Council members.
  • We heard them talking about installing only fence-line (not community) monitors, and even being unwilling to say where those would be located. (We found out they would be on the side of their facility that would measure air moving away from Benicia.)
  • We saw an embarrassing moment when Robert Livesay, a frequent contributor to the Benicia Herald, claimed to be “an organized group” in order to speak out of turn and for an extended time – for an incoherent diatribe against community engagement on this issue – taking advantage of the courtesy the Council extends to actual organized groups like Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community and Valero Energy Partners. This was unfortunate as our local democracy flourishes only because of the civility and courtesy we show each other, even if we disagree on issues.
  • We also saw many well-informed members of our community ask our elected representatives for an ISO that would get us the information we need to be able to save lives should an accident worse than the May 5, 2017 event occur at Valero in the future.

This is not a simple issue. The ISO is multifaceted and complex. However, the simple fact remains that we deserve air-quality monitors in our neighborhoods and access to the information from those monitors in real time. The Council has again delayed this legitimate request. Let’s thank Mayor Patterson and Vice Mayor Steve Young for their leadership, and remember to hold the other three accountable in November.

Larnie Fox

    Georgia Taylor Benedict: We will remember this vote

    Repost from the Benicia Herald

    We will remember this vote

    By Georgia Taylor Benedict, June 26, 2018

    Thank you to the Benicia Herald for the extremely well-written article regarding the recent City Council meeting during which the approval for an Industrial Safety Ordinance was discussed and once again put off to a future date. It appears three of our councilmembers who voted to “postpone” further review of the issue until November hope the voters will not remember their failure to approve the ISO.

    Thank you to Mayor Patterson and Councilman Young for having the courage of their convictions to stand up to the secrecy that shrouds Valero’s safety response. The concerned voters of Benicia will not forget the NO votes cast by Hughes, Schwartzman and Campbell.

    Georgia Taylor Benedict,

      Cathy Bennett: Is it safe to open your windows in Benicia?

      Repost from the Benicia Herald

      Cathy Bennett: Is it safe to open your windows, Benicia?

      By Cathy Bennett, Special to the Herald, June 24, 2018
      Asphalt: Plastic Road

      When the subject of Valero comes up most of us think about the refinery.  For many of us, this is a reminder of the toxic emissions it releases into our air on a daily basis.  That’s troublesome enough, but most of us are unaware that Valero also operates the largest asphalt production plant in California, right here in Benicia located on the perimeter of the Valero refinery.  This means that in addition to all the toxic emissions we are exposed to from Valero’s refinery, Benicians are in double jeopardy due to the extremely high levels of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) being released into the air from Valero’s asphalt production plant.

      I first learned about the asphalt production plant last April after we had our first hot spell.  During the warm stagnant evenings, I started sleeping with my windows open.  When I awoke in the mornings I had a headache, irritated eyes and throat, and a bloody nose!  These being unusual symptoms for me, I made some inquiries and subsequently did some research.  It turns out these are classic symptoms of toxic exposure to H2S.  And one of the highest concentrations of H2S come from asphalt production. Here’s what I learned.

      Relatively “safe” limits of H2S are between 30 to 50 ppm (parts per million). At exposure to 50 ppm, one’s sense of smell is deadened (you cannot smell it any more) & nose, throat & lung irritation occurs. At 100 – 500 ppm  a potentially fatal build-up of fluid in the lungs & pulmonary oedema can occur.  At 500 – 1000 ppm respiratory paralysis, chest pain, heart failure, shortness of breath, collapse & death can occur.

      There are two types of Asphalt: Paving asphalt (which the production of routinely emits H2S at 100 to 300 ppm) and rubber modified asphalt (which the production of can easily emit H2S between 500 and 3,000 ppm). Valero produces rubber modified asphalt (according to Wright Asphalts Products), the most toxic kind with potentially lethal H2S concentrations!

      Asphalt – Highly toxic H2S comes from asphalt production.

      In a nutshell, hydrogen sulfide is created during the process of refining crude, and then it is extracted to improve the fuel product. The remaining heavy residue is the asphalt.  Valero then takes that asphalt and adds synthetic rubber and a sulfur compound catalyst to treat the rubber.  In this process, the H2S vapor can easily elevate from the base asphalt at 100 to 800 ppm to more than 3,000 ppm inside the processing plant.  Valero’s asphalt processing equipment is not a closed system, and hazardous H2S vapors routinely escape into the environment. Valero relies upon gas collection systems to capture and treat the escaped H2S, and relies upon the wind to disburse it when it is released into the air.   Leaks, accidents and vapor escape is hardest to contain during the handling, transfer and transportation of the asphalt product. Valero moves this product from its offsite warehouse, to the processing plant, in and out of tanks, and into container trucks.  Most of the handling, loading and transporting of the material takes place in the wee hours of the night, while we’re all sleeping.

      At Valero’s other asphalt processing plants, the refinery footprint has a natural buffer of miles of land between the plant and the local residents, allowing for wind to more safely disperse the escaped gas.  But in Benicia, the Valero refinery and asphalt plant are less than 100 yards away from neighboring businesses and residents!  There is no “buffer” to protect us from these escaped gasses.  A coincidental succession of leaks, combined with a lack of wind and/or a slow-moving waft of poisoned air blowing into the windows of unsuspecting neighbors, can result in catastrophic physical harm to anyone breathing this stuff!  The damage is compounded when you take into account the cumulative impact of long term exposure.   And Benicians are not informed when these highly toxic “incidents” occur!  Our only evidence, is the physical symptoms we experience and our declining respiratory and cardiac health.

      So would Benicia benefit from an ISO?  Absolutely!  Valero has been able to operate under a cloak of invisibility for 17 years.  Since 2001, Valero has chosen to make a hazardous asphalt product even more hazardous because it elects to operate its plant as economically as it can get away with.  Valero knowingly makes a hazardous situation significantly worse for its neighbors and increases the dangers to the community & environment. And Benicia is none the wiser.

      I totally get why Valero opposes an ISO!  Valero doesn’t want any additional oversight of its operations and especially to be held accountable for its ongoing abusive practices.  Why should Valero be pressed to cut into corporate profits and spend the extra money to keep the community safe, when the community at large doesn’t even know all of the dangers they are being exposed to? That makes sense.

      What doesn’t make sense is why, after being fully informed of these and multiple other abusive practices, including Valero’s lack of transparency, failure to disclose incident reports and failure to provide air monitors to the residential areas of Benicia,  three of our City Councilmembers voted to shut down even a look at a draft of an ISO.  Yes, they actually refused to ask city staff to even review an ISO.  It’s obvious why Valero feels threatened by an ISO, but why are these three City Councilmembers refusing to even consider reviewing an ISO?  It’s a safety ordinance!  Whose interests are they serving? One has to wonder about the motive of any responsible leader, knowingly allowing such reckless harm to fall upon its citizens, and then to turn a blind eye when viable options such as an ISO is being offered.

      We have a local election this November.  I urge all Benicia citizens to remember who on the City Council voted to protect Valero, rather than protecting the health and safety of the people they are elected to serve.

      Cathy Bennett is a Benicia resident.