Tag Archives: Benicia Herald

“Who’s Monitoring the Monitors?” Last Night’s City Council ISO Status Report In Review

Valero’s Benicia Refinery, January 25, 2024.. | Galen Kusic.

Who’s monitoring our air monitors? Not Valero, apparently

Opinion by BenIndy’s Editorial Board, March 6, 2024 

Most Benicia residents will agree that when it comes to our health and safety, timely, clear disclosure of dangers to our community’s health is paramount to helping us make good decisions. In the context of keeping our families safe when industrial accidents or violations occur, “good decisions” may include evacuation or sheltering in place at one end of the spectrum, with closing windows, keeping vulnerable seniors and kids indoors, and discussing as a community how we feel about our biggest industrial neighbor, Valero, on the other end.

But the latest on Benicia City Council’s efforts to adopting an Industrial Safety Ordinance serves as a stark reminder of the many challenges and complexities we must face as we seek meaningful community oversight for industrial activity in Benicia.

At last night’s Benicia City Council meeting, Fire Chief Josh Chadwick’s status report on the City’s march to drafting, adopting, and implementing a Benicia Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO or BISHO) was a highlight of the meeting, demonstrating a step in the right direction towards enhanced public safety measures. The Fire Department’s efforts to improve and quickly deliver clear notifications to the public also received well-deserved recognition, with many commending its recent efforts as a significant improvement from past practices.

However, the presentation took a disturbing turn with the revelation that, to the best of our present knowledge, it is unclear who or what is actively monitoring the town’s air monitors and exactly what the process to notify the community is, so we know when we are in danger.

File photo of Valero’s Benicia Refinery. This image does not show the recent accident.  | Pat Toth-Smith.

Complaints triggered investigation into hydrogen sulfide accident, not air monitor spikes

As many of you know, there was an accident at Valero’s Benicia Refinery last weekend that released hydrogen sulfide, a neurotoxin,  into our air. The spill prompted questions and caused residents to call the Air District, Benicia Fire Department, and even Valero with complaints of a rotten egg smell, ultimately resulting in residents receiving a text alert about the odor through Alert Solano.

Until Valero’s 30-day mandated Investigation Report with a root-cause analysis is released, Benicia leadership as well as residents are in the dark as to the exact cause and impact of the release. But even without this report available, several concerns emerged regarding both this recent accident at the Benicia Refinery and Valero’s response to it during Tuesday’s presentation.

According to Chief Chadwick, monitors detected spikes in hydrogen sulfide levels starting at 4 am on the day of the release, yet there was a delay of at least two hours in notifying the community. This delay suggests a lack of active monitoring.

Furthermore, Chief Chadwick revealed on Tuesday that it was the Fire Department that first made contact with Valero about the odor after staff noticed it on an unrelated call, not the other way around. This indicates that Valero did not proactively inform the Fire Department about either the accident or the community complaints the refinery had apparently received.

While there may be good reasons why refinery staff should investigate the source of an odor before alerting the community, this recent release and Valero’s subsequent response exposes serious flaws in the existing cooperation agreement between Valero and the City – the cooperation agreement that is supposed to serve as the framework for incident response and notification protocols (more on this below).

As we reflect on the discussions and outcomes of the City Council meeting, the question “Who monitors the monitors?” resonates most deeply. It highlights the imperative for a comprehensive system with clearly defined standards and expectations, to ensure that the systems we rely on for our health and safety are not just in place, but are also actively and effectively monitored so timely and clear notification in emergencies can occur.

The path forward must include rectifying this oversight to prevent any lapses that could compromise public safety and our environmental surrounds.

Valero Benicia Refinery’s Community Relations director’s response demonstrates failure to relate to our community

Another disturbing revelation that the Benicia Herald reported on last week emerged when Editor Galen Kusic asked Valero’s Benicia Refinery Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs why the community was finally notified at 7:40 am when H2S was detected as early as 4 or 4:30 am, depending on reports.

In order to answer the question, “I suggest that [Mr. Kusic] review the Public Information Bank website along with that policy which defines the requirements of notifications,” the director responded. The policy the director referred to is Valero’s existing cooperation agreement with Benicia. At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Steve Young questioned the delay as well.

Here, BenIndy’s Editorial Board offers two opinions and two speculations. The first opinion of this Board is that this was a wholly unacceptable response. Our first speculation is that this response  exposed that the director was either unprepared or refused to answer Mr. Kusic’s question.

The second opinion is that if this is what Valero considers to be appropriate “community relations,” it is clearer than ever that there is an immediate need for an Benicia ISO that can define, respond to, and deliver on expectations of a safe and healthy community.

Finally, we speculate that Valero will not be a willing partner, let alone a good-faith leader, in the effort to design and provide one.

It is up to our City to lead instead

Vice Mayor Terry Scott and City Council Member Kari Birdseye, who have been at the forefront of advocating for a robust ISO for Benicia despite attacks and opposition, joined Chief Chadwick in acknowledging the community’s interest in oversight. As the three members of Benicia City Council’s ISO Subcommittee, their determination in pushing for common sense safety measures to reduce accidents and improve notifications to our community is a breath of the freshest air.

But while progress is certainly being made in the right direction, the journey towards a more responsive and transparent notification system is ongoing, and may be uphill. It is incumbent upon all stakeholders in this process to remain vigilant, proactive, and collaborative in acknowledging and navigating the challenges that lie ahead, especially if Valero decides to dig in its heels.

This post was updated on March 7 to reflect that, at Tuesday’s meeting, Chief Josh Chadwick indicated that it was the Fire Department that made initial contact with Valero’s Benicia Refinery to report the smell, only to discover that the refinery had already received complaints but had not yet shared this fact with the City. The post was also updated to better clarify the nature of the City’s cooperation agreement with Valero’s Benicia Refinery.

The opinions above represent those of BenIndy’s editors and no other groups or individuals, but we will share that you can follow this conversation by becoming a Supporter of the BISHO Working Group at BISHO.org.

The Benicia Fire Department has a public page regarding incidents at the Valero Benicia Refinery. These are the uploaded documents regarding the February 2024 Valero Refinery Odor Incident:

2024-02-24 Valero Odor Incident Update 3
2024-02-24 Valero Odor Incident Update 2
2024-02-24 Valero Odor Incident Update 1
2024-02-24 Valero Refinery Odor Incident
2024-02-24 City of Benicia 72 Hour Report


The Benicia Fire Department also has a public page with incident notifications, starting in 2019:

Level-1 Notifications

Level-2 Notifications

Level-3 Notifications

“BISHO, Revenue Measures and Cabaldon: Three Steps We Can Take on March 5 for a Safer, Healthier, Better Benicia”

[Note from BenIndy: What luck! A second installment from Benicia Herald columnist (and author, blogger, and Benicia resident) Stephen Golub, just in time for Election Day and the March 5 Benicia City Council Meeting.]

Photo by Phil Scroggs on Unsplash.
Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub.

By Stephen Golub, first appearing in the Benicia Herald on March 3, 2024

As demonstrated by the February 24 Valero spill, which put potentially dangerous levels of toxic hydrogen sulfide into our air, we can’t be complacent about protecting the safety and health of Benicia’s kids, older adults, people with medical problems and entire community. Here are three steps we can take on March 5 to keep Benicia beautiful and wonderful.


At the March 5 City Council meeting, a report will be presented on the status of a Council subcommittee’s work to prepare an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO). This potential legislation, which every other Bay Area locality which hosts a refinery has, could help prevent Valero violations and accidents that can spark dangerous emissions and explosions.

In the wake of the February 24 accident, and amidst increasing indications that Valero adamantly opposes an ISO (which, again, other Bay Area refineries manage to live with), it’s important to show support for the ordinance and for the diligent, dogged work of Vice Mayor Terry Scott and Councilwoman Kari Birdseye to bring it about.

The meeting starts at 6 pm. Attending and speaking up in person is important. But those who prefer to participate by video can go to https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/agendas and click the Agenda or Zoom links at the top of the page.

An additional, easy way to back an ISO is to go to the website BISHO.ORG and indicate support at the online form there. BISHO stands for Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance, a desired title of the City’s ISO because it includes the word “safety” to emphasize what’s at stake. The site has been put together by and for the many Benicians seeking to make our town safer and healthier through an ISO.


Along with our votes in the March 5 primary contests (more on that below), that day also represents our chance to cast our ballots to help ensure Benicia’s financial future.

If we vote YES on Measure A, the result will be a slight increase in the tax for hotel guests; residents are unaffected. It will produce up to a few hundred thousand dollars per year for the City.

If we vote YES on Measure B, it will yield millions of dollars in increasing sales tax revenue annually for the City, at the cost of just 75 cents per $100 spent. The proposal is backed by the City Council and by other leading Benicians across the political spectrum.

Coupled with other Council initiatives, including economic development plans that can yield increased revenues down the line and cutting Benicia government jobs and costs that are improving the budget situation right now, Measures A and B will help the City dig out of its current fiscal crisis. Since about half of the City budget goes to our fine police and fire departments, the two measures will go a long way toward protecting our public safety by protecting funding for those vital services – as well as protecting other city services from being gutted.


Democrat Christopher Cabaldon is running to be state senator for California District 3, which includes all of Solano County and many adjoining areas. Endorsed by Benicia Mayor Steve Young, Vice Mayor Terry Scott, former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, former Council Member Dan Smith and dozens of other officials from across Solano and the region, Cabaldon is by far the best candidate seeking that position.

In a candidates forum I attended, which included fellow Democrats Jackie Elward and Rozanna Verder-Aliga, Cabaldon offered by far the broadest and deepest knowledge of issues affecting Benicia and the other areas he’d represent if elected. Those opponents do not bring nearly the same degree of expertise and experience to bear as Cabaldon does by virtue of his successful 22-year tenure as West Sacramento mayor and his numerous other types of local, state and national service.

One opponent, Verder-Aliga, prompts particular concerns. Most notably, as a member of the Vallejo City Council, in 2017 she led the way in extending consideration of an (ultimately unsuccessful) proposal to build a cement plant and deep-water port in Vallejo, despite widespread community opposition and a nearly unanimous vote against the project by the Vallejo Planning Commission. The development, which would have imported and processed an industrial byproduct with an apt and ugly name, “slag,” could have caused havoc for Vallejo, Benicia and surrounding areas in term of pollution, health risks, heavy industrial truck traffic and a lengthy, dust-spewing construction process.


Please back a safer, healthier, better Benicia by supporting an ISO at the City Council meeting  and at BISHO.ORGand by voting for Measures A and B and for Christopher Cabaldon for state senate.

Benicia Herald columnist Stephen Golub’s questions about Valero’s ‘Hydrogen Sulfide Saturday’

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub.

By Stephen Golub, first appearing in the Benicia Herald on March 1, 2024


By the way, a big thanks to Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick and our Fire Department for their efforts to alert Benicians about Saturday’s incident at the Valero Refinery, particularly since it resulted in the release of the dangerous neurotoxin Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) into our air. While, as suggested below, the incident and the reporting more than ever demonstrate the need for an ISO, those efforts are nonetheless appreciated.

Thanks, too, to the Valero personnel who labored to clean up that mess, perhaps at risk to their own health. Of course, this does not let the Valero refinery or the corporation’s Texas headquarters off the hook for this dangerous event  – or for many other accidents and violations. But the workers who work to mitigate such harm merit praise. In fact, an ISO could benefit them as well as the rest of us.

So far, based on some very good reporting by Benicia Herald editor Galen Kusic and other sources, we have some initial knowledge about what happened. But dozens of questions remain.

For now, I’ll just address a few questions mainly raised by Kusic’s February 28 article and data shared by the Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program (BCAMP), a local non-profit that (as its website states) “has been established to monitor local air quality in real-time, operate a website, and provide education on health as related to air quality.” (For more information on BCAMP, here’s the group’s site: https://www.fenceline.org/bcamp/)

  1. As Kusic’s article states, “It isn’t clear as to why alerts went out at 7:40 a.m. when H2S was discovered on Tank 1738 at 6:08 a.m. and H2S was detected in the air as early as 4:30 a.m.” In fact, as noted by BCAMP, Valero’s own monitoring system indicated alarming levels of H2S in the air as early as 4 a.m. And BCAMP data indicates a spike in H2S hours earlier than that.

So why the delay in alerting the public?

  1. What’s more, the current (and quite weak) City of Benicia – Valero Cooperation Agreement incorporates the requirement that the Benicia Fire Department must be notified immediately if there is a release or a threatened release of a hazardous substance that could harm people’s health. It certainly does not sound like Valero provided immediate notification – which to my simple mind, means as soon as possible.

Why was that the case?

  1. As stated in the Herald article, when asked about the delay, “Valero Benicia Refinery Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs Paul Adler responded, ‘In order to answer your first question, I suggest that you review the Public Information website along with that policy which defines the requirements of notifications.’”

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a straightforward answer to a straightforward inquiry about an urgent public health matter, rather than being shunted off to a website.

Why not provide that?

  1. Did the first information the Fire Department received about the incident come from the public reporting the “rotten eggs” odor of H2S in the air or from Valero? And if not Valero, why was that the case?

5.  BCAMP data reported an alarming spike in H2S in the air during the late afternoon on Saturday, supposedly after the worst of the incident had passed. Were we safe at that time?

I’ll note that I know one individual whose asthma was apparently greatly aggravated by this incident (though this is not a matter of medical certainty) and two others who reported feeling ill, all on the west side of town. Not scientific proof of danger, but not something to be ignored.

Again, these are just a few questions prompted by Valero’s release of H2S on Saturday. Coming on top of many Valero violations and other incidents, they point to the need for a far stronger way of protecting the safety and health of our kids, our seniors and our entire community. We can start by showing support for an ISO at the City Council meeting on March 5.

Other reporting on this recent refinery incident:

Benicia Herald on Valero Refinery spill of toxic Hydrogen Sulfide

[Note from BenIndy: The Benicia Herald  does not have an online edition but this Wednesday, February 28 article by Galen Kusic, editor, represents the best and most complete coverage of the Valero incident last weekend, including reactions from local representatives for Valero and our own elected officials. Supporting local journalism is crucial for ensuring communities are informed and facilitates transparency and accountability during important local events like this one. You can subscribe to the Herald by email at beniciacirculation@gmail.com or by phone at 707-745-6838.]

Benicia Valero Refinery spill of hydrocarbon releases Hydrogen Sulfide; odor smelled throughout Benicia

Valero’s Benicia Refinery on January 25, 2024. | Galen Kusic.

By Galen Kusic, Editor, The Benicia Herald, February 28, 2024

On Sat. Feb. 24 at 7:40 a.m., the City of Benicia reported that Benicia Fire Department was working with the Benicia Valero Refinery “on mitigating an odor coming from the refinery.” The source, which was reported as “refined hydrocarbon” was actually Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), a dangerous neurotoxin.

According to the mandatory 72-hour report provided by Valero Benicia Refinery, between 5:30 and 6 a.m., Benicia Dispatch informed Valero of three odor complaints, and the Refinery received two inquiries related to odors smelled in the community. Residents noticed the strong odor throughout Benicia ranging from neighborhoods near Southampton, First St. and the lower east side.

As stated in the report, refinery operations began investigating the source of the odor and identified hydrocarbon on the roof of Valero Refinery’s Tank 1738 at approximately 6:08 a.m. Valero activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) around 7:48 a.m. and cleanup efforts began at approximately 1 p.m. Prior to the event, refinery operations were following emergency shutdown procedures to safely posture a unit that included transferring material to Tank 1738. The bulk of the material on the roof of the tank, currently estimated to contain less than 83 gallons of refined hydrocarbon, was removed by Sat. evening.

Levels of H2S spiked between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., with levels reaching a maximum five minute average around 400 ppb (parts per billion) and a maximum one hour average around 142 ppb, according to data from the refinery’s fenceline website at www.beniciarefineryairmonitors.org.

“It was a very low level,” said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick. “Dangerous levels are at 50,000 ppb and we start to get concerned at 1,000 ppb.”

To put that in perspective, those numbers are more than twice the level Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists as an acute Minimum Risk Level (MRL) of 70 ppb over an hour period. The Reference Exposure Level (REL) determined by California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) for H2S is 30 ppb over an hour period.

In the report it states, “A REL is an airborne concentration level of a chemical at or below which no adverse health effects are anticipated for a specified exposure duration. RELs are based on the most sensitive, relevant, adverse health effect reporting in the medical and toxicological literature and are designed to protect the most sensitive individuals in the population by the inclusion of margins of safety.”

Two separate flaring incidents at Valero were reported by Benicia Fire Department on Feb. 18 at 12:39 a.m. and Feb. 23 at 8:30 p.m. Ongoing intermittent flaring that exceeded the 500 lbs. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) reporting threshold occurred as part of the unit shutdown. According to Valero, the flaring did not contribute to the community odors.

After detecting the odor, Valero provided communication to the City of Benicia and other appropriate agencies and cleanup efforts were initiated to abate the odor. The City of Benicia Fire Department responded as a member of the EOC and also conducted air quality testing using their portable air monitors at multiple points throughout the City. Refinery personnel continued to clean off the material also referred to as “slop” from the tank roof until there wasn’t enough daylight to continue.

The refinery continued to spot clean the remaining residue on the tank roof and expected to have that activity completed by Mon. evening. Samples are being taken of the containers that are holding the material removed from the roof to obtain a more accurate estimate on the amount of oil.

“The strong smell has dissipated,” said Chadwick. “There is currently no health hazard.”

An investigation is underway to determine how the hydrocarbon material got onto the tank. A summary of the investigation will be provided to the Fire Chief once it is completed. Chadwick estimates the investigation can take up to a month.

Valero Refinery is also required to submit a 30-Day Investigation Report with root cause analysis. The 30-Day report will be posted publicly when available. In addition, Solano County Environmental Health will work in conjunction with the City of Benicia to perform a full incident investigation report that will also be released publicly.

It isn’t clear as to why alerts went out at 7:40 a.m. when H2S was discovered on Tank 1738 at 6:08 a.m. and H2S was detected in the air as early as 4:30 a.m. When this question was posed to Valero Benicia Refinery Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs Paul Adler, he responded.

“In order to answer your first question, I suggest that you review the Public Information Bank website along with that policy which defines the requirements of notifications,” he said.

In the Valero Cooperation Agreement, it states that “immediate notification is required in all Level-1 through Level-3 incidents. This was categorized as a Level-3 incident, but nowhere in the agreement does it describe what actual time frame constitutes “immediate notification.”

While the City noted in an update on Sat. evening that the smell was dissipating, driving by the Valero Refinery at 1:30 p.m. on Mon. on I-680 the smell was still strong. According to the City, Solano County Public Health only recommended to shelter in place if the odor smell was too strong and/or if it was “aggravating.”

When asked about further updates on Sun., Mayor Steve Young responded, “I don’t sorry,” but noted that he was meeting with Chadwick and City Manager Mario Giuliani on Mon.

“Hopefully I will have more information then,” he said. Young did not respond for further comment by press time Tue.

There were no injuries associated with the event, and no reports of offsite injuries or property damage have been reported.

Other reporting on this recent refinery incident: