Tag Archives: Martinez CA

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.

Martinez refinery manager explains release, how safety measures have changed

The Martinez Refining Company’s manager told the Martinez City Council on Wednesday operators were unaware last Thanksgiving’s release of spent catalyst was affecting the outside community until the next day, and the refinery held off notifying authorities until it could assess whether the release was harmful. NBC Bay Area’s Jodi Hernandez reports. Click the “play” arrow icon to play the video on the page.

The Martinez Refining Company’s manager told the Martinez City Council on Wednesday operators were unaware last Thanksgiving’s release of spent catalyst was affecting the outside community until the next day, and the refinery held off notifying authorities until it could assess whether the release was harmful.

Refinery manager Daniel Ingram apologized and told the council the company has taken numerous corrective actions to make sure the events of last Thanksgiving weekend don’t happen again.

The refinery released an estimated 20 to 24 tons of “spent catalyst” into the surrounding community from about 9:30 p.m. Nov. 24 until the following morning, when residents found their yards and vehicles covered in metallic dust.

The refinery failed to alert the county health department and the community warning system, both of which are legally mandated within 15 minutes of a release.

County health officials didn’t find out about the release until the following Saturday when alerted to social media posts about the dust.

A picture of Martinez Refining Company in the distance with residences in the foreground.
Martinez Refining Company (MRC). | Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group.

Ingram told the council the delay was at least partially because refinery officials were unaware there was a community impact until the next day, when contacted by a community member. Then they were busy trying to ascertain whether the release was harmful.

Ingram said the refinery has since “adjusted our procedures” so it notifies outside authorities as soon as the slightest measure of a release is noted.

“The moment that alarm goes off, we’re making that notification immediately,” Ingram said.

Initial testing of the Thanksgiving release showed the dust contained elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium and zinc, all of which can cause respiratory problems.

Ingram said the refinery has taken 11 specific corrective actions: two associated with equipment, six associated with refinery procedures, and three associated with better training.

As an example, the unit in which the Thanksgiving problem occurred was coming back online after being in a “hot standby mode.”

Bringing it back online was a manual task controlled by an individual who was handling multiple control points. Now more of the process is automatic and, if there’s a problem, the process must be stopped sooner.

Ingram also addressed three smaller releases of “coke dust” incidents that have occurred since July. Coke dust is a byproduct of oil refining. The first release, on July 11, lasted less than a minute and created steam with coke dust, which was carried into the community by wind.

The second release was on July 22 and was contained on-site. The third release happened Oct. 6 and was termed by refinery officials as “brief” in a unit that has since been taken offline. Nevertheless, all three incidents are still being investigated. But Ingram pointed out that, under the refinery’s new procedures, the refinery notified the health department and the community immediately.

Ingram said internal investigations have prompted procedural corrections to have been made, as well as started new ‘red tag” safety drills, going through various emergency scenarios to respond better in the future.

“We do sincerely apologize to our neighbors and the community for these incidents. And I know that actions speak louder than words … we are working overtime right now to investigate thoroughly each and every of these incidents and come up with the appropriate corrective actions that address the root causes of these incidents.”

Ingram talked about the refinery’s new “Goal 0” safety policy, which refers to zero safety incidents as a cultural goal of the company. He said everyone at the refinery is dedicated to Goal 0.

“We know we have to earn the right to operate in the community that hosts us, and we are very, very disappointed that we have failed to do that,” he said.

Ingram said the refinery has implemented new mandatory safety training and has expanded its environmental safety staff, hiring new senior environmental engineers and 20 new operators. He also said he will return to give the council regular monthly updates.

The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office is investigating MRC for failing to notify authorities of the Thanksgiving release. The Board of Supervisors put together an oversight committee, including residents from affected areas, to investigate the cause and whether the release increased risk of community health problems. [Emph. added by BenIndy.]

Contra Costa Health Investigating Oct. 6 Coke Dust Release at Martinez Refining Company

A picture of Martinez Refining Company in the distance with residences in the foreground.
Contra Costa’s Health Department issued a warning to the community after Martinez Refining Company (MRC, pictured) accidentally released petcoke dust at 10:31 am during maintenance. In order to prevent disruption of Alhambra’s High School homecoming parade and other Friday night community events, MRC will use a different process to finish the maintenance work that triggered the release.  | Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group.

For Release: Friday, October 6, 2023
Contact: CCH Media Line, 925-608-5463 or publicinfo@cchealth.org

Contra Costa Health (CCH) deployed a hazardous materials team to investigate a reported release of petroleum coke dust from Martinez Refining Company (MRC) about 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 6.

The release ended soon after it was reported by MRC to Contra Costa County’s Community Warning System. CCH has not found evidence of any immediate risk to public health in surrounding communities.

MRC reported that the release began at 10:31 a.m. while workers were conducting maintenance, which was stopped due to the release.

CCH is aware of the Alhambra High School homecoming parade set for Friday evening. MRC confirmed there will not be additional maintenance on Friday, and they will use a different process to complete the work.  [Emph. added by BenIndy.]

Following an assessment by our health officer, CCH believes the homecoming parade and other community events can proceed as planned.

CCH has asked the facility to provide a 72-hour report regarding the cause of the release, which will be posted at cchealth.org/hazmat.

Saturday’s ‘coke dust’ release marks the Martinez Refining Company’s second leak in two weeks

[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: A big thanks to Michelle Pellegrin for alerting me to this second coke dust release.]

A picture of Martinez Refining Company in the distance with residences in the foreground.
The Martinez Refining Company has reported two petcoke leaks in less than two weeks. | Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group.

Mercury News, by Will McCarthy, July 23, 2023

The Martinez Refining Company reported the second release of ‘coke dust’ in less than two weeks on Saturday evening, according to the Contra Costa County Health Department.

The health department said that hazmat teams did not immediately find evidence of coke dust in surrounding neighborhoods following the release. Coke dust is a black sooty substance chemically similar to charcoal that is created during the refining process.

The refinery first reported the release of coke dust, a byproduct of petroleum refining, at 6:04 p.m.

The Martinez Refining Company issued a statement on Facebook indicating that the release was contained within refinery grounds, and that there were not any “off-site impacts.” The statement said that the report was only issued out of an “abundance of caution,” and that the refinery “immediately contacted appropriate agencies and conducted community monitoring.”

“We apologize for any concern this may have caused our community,” the statement read.

After the previous release on July 11th, Contra Costa County health officials advised residents to avoid breathing the black dust released by the Martinez Refinery Company and to avoid making close contact with it until hazardous-materials teams were able to collect and test samples of the residue.

In that case, the health department ultimately concluded the release did not pose a long term health threat.

The oil refinery is currently under investigation for the release of toxic heavy metals into the community in November 2022.


And don’t forget to check out the amazing ISO Archives on BenIndy