Category Archives: Air quality violations

Dangerous Valero Emissions Went Unchecked For Years In Benicia

Benicia’s mayor and other city leaders said they were not informed of the problem until two months ago.

Benicia-Martinez Bridge, Valero Benicia Refinery in distance. (Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources)

Benicia Patch, March 4, 2022

BENICIA, CA — Representatives from Valero and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District appeared in front of the Benicia City Council Tuesday night after revelations were made known that the refinery was emitting harmful, excessive levels of hazardous chemicals for nearly 16 years before BAAQMD said it became aware of them.

The council and community members also grilled BAAQMD for failing to notify the city of Benicia as soon as it found out about the emissions in 2018. Benicia’s mayor and other city leaders said they were not informed of the problem until two months ago.

BAAQMD began its PowerPoint presentation to the council with an image of Valero’s byzantine system of pipes, storage tanks, chimneys, towers, vents and smokestacks with a red arrow pointing down to one of them. Under the arrow stood a slim, vertical pipe emitting smoke that the air district claims it had thought was merely a steam vent. As it turned out, the innocuous vent had been emitting pollutants at hundreds of times the daily limit since 2003.

According to BAAQMD, Valero had been releasing benzene, ethylbenzene, and other organic compounds considered hazardous. District rules set a cap on such emissions at 15 pounds per day and a maximum of 300 parts per million. What the district discovered was that Valero had been emitting an average of 5,200 pounds per day and 19,148 parts per million.

The presentation given to council was an attempt of the air district to “be more transparent,” something they say they are committed to in the wake of the revelations.

“We should have done better and we should have done better sooner,” said Damian Breen, BAAQMD’s senior deputy executive officer of operations.

Joshua Tulino, general manager of Benicia’s Valero refinery, told the council and community that they, too, were unaware of the emissions until 2018 and “immediately” administered piping modifications that solved 71 percent of the hydrocarbon emission issues. He also said that since then, Valero has reduced the emissions by 98 percent.

Tulino maintained that informing the community about dangerous emissions is an “obligation” they take seriously but that “this source of emissions did not fall into that category.”

Tulino added that they were not aware that the vent was a source that needed to be monitored.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young asked Breen why the air district didn’t release the information it had gathered as soon as it found out and questioned how they could identify toxic releases and not share information with the city.

Breen said Solano County and “hazmat” officials were notified, but that they “should have done better” about notifying Benicia.

“That’s why you see us changing our policies here.”

The changes Breen referenced are holding more public hearings when violations occur, increasing transparency, keeping communities better informed, and monitoring refineries “better.”

As part of this effort, BAAQMD will be holding a March 15 public hearing about these Valero violations. The air district will also be installing a remote air monitoring station in Benicia near the Fire Museum at 900 East Second Street, a move that councilmembers unanimously accepted Tuesday.

KQED Morning Edition: City Leaders in Benicia not happy over Air District findings against Valero Refinery

City Leaders in Benicia not happy to learn recently that the Valero was emitting excessive amounts of hazardous chemicals for over a decade

KQED Radio, Morning Edition, March 1, 2022

Brian Watt interviews Ted Goldberg:

VIDEO: Air District Investigation Shows Valero Benicia Refinery Released Toxic Chemicals for Years

Brief report and video by Benicia videographer Constance Beutel, Ed.D.

Constance Beutel

In an unusual and welcomed step, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District held a community meeting for Benicia to discuss the upcoming Air Board meeting (March 15, 2022) regarding Valero’s nearly 18 year violation of District emissions standards.

To say the least, Benicia Community members, City Staff and some electeds were shocked to learn of the long unreported emissions exceedance as well as the Air District’s withholding of this information for over three years. To its credit, the Air District was present in full force to present their findings and to hear every question and concern voiced by those in attendance.

The Air District will be advising/suggesting that the Air Board grant that penalty fines assigned to Valero be given to the City of Benicia.

The tone of the community’s response was mostly of frustration over years of voicing concern and not being kept in the loop as to major issues and in not rectifying on-going serious problems.

Constance Beutel

Highlights from Bay Area Air Quality Management District Meeting: Benicia CA, February 24, 2022

Longer version (1 hour): Bay Area Air Quality Management District Community Meeting: Benicia, CA February 24, 2022

KPIX reports on Valero Benicia’s continuing pollution violations

Investigation Shows Valero Benicia Refinery Released Toxic Chemicals for Years

KPIX5 CBS Bay Area News, by Andrea Nakano, February 24, 2022
[IMPORTANT –  BenIndy Editor: The video coverage includes voices of concerned Benicia residents.  Click the arrow above, and another arrow when the new page opens. If that doesn’t work for you, go to – R.S.]

BENICIA (KPIX) — At a community workshop Thursday, Benicia residents learned more about excessive levels of hazardous chemicals coming from the Valero Benicia refinery.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District discovered the plant has been emitting those chemicals for more the 15 years. BAAQMD discovered the problems and started investigating in 2018.

Workshop attendees questioned why they weren’t notified about the emissions until last month.

An investigation by BAAQMD revealed emissions at the Valero refinery were, on average, hundreds of times higher than allowed by law. Pollutants included benzene, which causes an elevated risk of cancer and chronic health issues.

Many Benicia residents were furious nothing had been done sooner.

“When accidents happen in Benicia, we are never told about it in a timely matter where we can protect ourselves. That doesn’t work for those living next to the refinery that wake up to black powder on all of their cars. Kids are going to school and pets are out there breathing this black stuff that’s accumulating everywhere,” Pat Toth Smith said.

“For the community, the monitoring systems were supposed to give us a sense that we can trust,” Marilyn Bardet added.

Damian Breen with BAAQMD says the reason the district wasn’t able to alert Benicia residents earlier was to protect the integrity of the investigation and ensure that Valero is held accountable.

Valero provided a statement:

“The Valero Benicia Refinery discovered its hydrogen unit vent had trace contaminants. Valero took immediate steps to address the issue and has been working cooperatively with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.”