Here we go again – New leak at Martinez refinery under investigation

HazMat crews responding to release of petroleum coke ‘dust’ at Martinez refinery

A picture of Martinez Refining Company in the distance with residences in the foreground.
The Martinez Refining Company is under investigation for another leak, this time a petcoke ‘dust’ release. It took two hours for the refinery to alert the Contra Costa Health Department about the leak, prompting renewed scrutiny for refinery notification standards and protocols. | Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group

, by Alex Baker, July 11, 2023

(KRON) — HazMat crews are responding to the Martinez Refining Company in Martinez after chemical dust was released into the air on Tuesday. The incident is being investigated by inspectors, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The agency said it is closely monitoring a petroleum coke release at the refinery and responding to complaints.

The agency is also documenting air quality violations and assisting first responders.

“Follow instructions from health officials,” the agency advised.

The Contra Costa Health Department’s HazMat team is also responding to the incident, which it described as the “release of dust” from Martinez Refining Company. Material from the release is visible on the ground in the surrounding neighborhoods, according to CCH.

Unlike a release of spent catalyst at the refinery last November that lasted from Thanksgiving night until the next day, MRC did notify CCH of the release at 10:22 a.m. Tuesday, according to CCH spokesperson Karl Fischer.

Tuesday’s release occurred at about 8:30 a.m. and lasted one minute. However, health officials expressed concern that it took nearly two hours for MRC to notify them.

“We are very concerned about the delayed notification to the Community Warning System,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover. “We are once again responding to a refinery incident and trying to determine the health impacts. We understand this is an ongoing concern for our community and timely notification is critical.”

“We do not yet know how much material was released, or how far it spread,” Fischer said. Sirens did not go off, as the refinery reported the release to the Community Warning System as a Level 1 incident, which doesn’t require the alarms. No area streets were closed for cleanup.

Like the November release, community members found dust particles on parked cars and on the ground.

Fischer said the material released was “coke dust,” which is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process. In November, the particles were “spent catalyst,” comprised of elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium, and zinc, all of which can cause respiratory problems.

Health workers took samples for analysis Tuesday morning. CCH hazardous materials crews are investigating. Fischer said.

The public is advised to avoid breathing or coming into close contact with the material. CCH is collecting samples for lab analysis.

The refinery put out a statement on social media, describing the incident as a “brief release of Coke dust,” and saying that refinery personnel were conducting community monitoring.

The refinery urged anyone who had a claim or concern related to the release to contact a claims rep at 800-542-7113.

What is petroleum coke dust?

Petroleum coke is a carbon rich solid material that is a byproduct of oil refining. The substance is described as black in color and resembles soot. Health officials recommend using soap and water to clean impacted outdoor surfaces.

Bay City News contributed to this report.


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