Martinez refinery hit with joint civil action after repeated toxic dust releases

The Martinez Refining Co. is the focus of a joint civil action over its release of heavy-metal laden dust. | Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle.

SF Chronicle, by Megan Fan Munce, November 17, 2023

Two Bay Area agencies announced they would collaborate on a joint civil enforcement action against the Martinez Refining Co. following several toxic dust releases over the past year.

On Thursday, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office announced it, along with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, would be combining prosecutorial resources to make sure the refinery is following state law and air quality regulations.

Over the past year, the Martinez refinery has released dust into the air four times. Oil refining can produce fine dust that can damage the heart and lungs when inhaled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Most recently, Martinez residents voiced frustration after an Oct. 6 release sparked air quality concerns just as a local high school was preparing for its homecoming game and parade. County officials later announced there was no risk to public health.

Last Thanksgiving, a release of toxic white dust prompted county health officials to warn residents not to eat food from their gardens. Officials advised residents to wear N95 respirators when cleaning up the dust, which they said contained elevated levels of heavy metals.

In January, Contra Costa Health formally asked the district attorney to consider taking legal action against the Martinez refinery, alleging the company failed to notify the county of the release until two days after it began. The EPA and FBI have also been probing into the company’s actions.

That Thanksgiving release will be one of many the joint civil action seeks to address, according to the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office.

“The goal of this joint effort with the Air District is to achieve a resolution that ensures environmental compliance, and to rebuild and foster a safer community for the residents of Martinez,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said in a statement.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Contra Costa Health have also submitted notices of violation against the Martinez refinery and will be participating in the civil joint action.

PBF Energy, which owns the Martinez refinery, could not be reached for a comment Thursday night. Ted Asregadoo, a spokesperson for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, told the East Bay Times the company was aware of the joint civil action and were “open to the process.”

Alexander Crockett, chief counsel for the Air District, said in a statement that the “comprehensive approach” would ensure the refinery becomes compliant with all air quality regulations.