Chevron Fire Meeting: Pouring fuel on the flames
Rage poured out of residents’ pores and mouths on
Tuesday night in Richmond.
Almost 500 people packed the town’s
Civic Center for the Chevron hosted town hall meeting in response to the huge
fire at the refinery on Monday night.
The evening,coincided with National Night Out-a
major event in Richmond, began with a rally outside organized by Asian Pacific
Environmental Network. Richmond’s Green Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, spoke at this rally, reminding
all that economic and environmental justice were key issues for Richmond.
The Cast of Characters
The town hall meeting inside included information about shelter in place and a
small postcard was passed out with key numbers-like the claims hotline, odor
lines and police.
The meeting was moderated by Joan Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the
Richmond Community Foundation, an organization that is rumored to
receive a significant amount of funding from Chevron. Her presence was unusual
and condescending. She began by having each panel member give a short
presentation on their role in the fire and the emergency response after, the
Hearne, Chevron Richmond refinery General Manager
Randy Sawyer, Director Hazardous Materials Division,
Contra Costa Health Services
Lindsay, Richmond City Manager (why wasn’t the Mayor invited on the
Dr. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa Public Health
Katherine Hern, Contra Costa County Senior
Emergency Planning Coordinator
McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality
Hearne expressed a sincere apology
and accepted full responsibility for the fire at the refinery. However, he was
unwilling to provide details about the substances burned in unit 4, he
described it as a “diesel like” substance.
Hearne was unwilling to provide
information about his annual salary. Hearne is a strategic leader for Chevron,
formerly the operations manager at their beloved and touted El Segundo Refinery in Southern California.
Randy Sawyer was booed almost as
much as Hearne. He provided no tangible information about what materials may
have been in the air or what people were being exposed to. Residents felt the
emergency response was inadequate-with a delayed siren and some that are registered
did not receive calls about the impending danger.
Dr. Wendel Brunner was mildly
feisty. He was the first person to discuss health effects from the smoke’s
particulate matter. Brunner informed the crowd that as of 5 pm Tuesday, 949 people had reported acute (asthma attacks,
burning eyes, burning nose and throat) health symptoms at the two area
Brunner admitted that it had been “awhile since the last accident, but too
soon.” However, Brunner knows this game-he’s seen it in 1999 and 2007 and has provided
the same information about health effects to particulate matter. It is
unsure if he has any real power to actually address the health impacts from
Jeff McKay from the Bay Area Air
Quality Management District should not be allowed to speak to the public. The
Air Hugger strongly recommends that he be advised to stay in the office,
crunching numbers, signing pollution permits, watering down data and have no
direct contact with the general public. McKay was originally skipped for the
presentations-and once he stood and spoke, it was obvious why.
McKay told the crowd that the BAAQMD was onsite taking measurements (no
information was given at the meeting on what kind of “measurements” were taken
and what the results might have been). McKay said that particulate sampling is
still ongoing. He then alluded to 23 compounds in the air at levels that would
be the same as what they would find on a normal day.
Does McKay’s normal day include a
billowing, black cloud of burning diesel fuel?
After these short verbal
presentations, residents were asked to line up (at least 20 feet from the
stage) and were given the mic to ask questions and make statements.
What was in the air?
Several residents expressed their anger, frustration and fear from seeing the
fire and dealing with the immediate health effects of family members. Many
questions were asked about what was in the air and what chemicals people were
One woman pressed, she asked for
four things that were in the air during the fire. After repeated attempts to
dodge this question, Contra Costa County’s Randy Sawyer responded:
(via Dr. Brunner)
Community Monitor also took particulate samples during the fire and
will be getting these results analyzed. We are also offering
to sample five residents home for fallout from the smoke and get it
analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s).
Real time air monitoring: early
warning detection system
The fire occurred in the same exact unit as 2007. This unit has burned down
twice in 5 years. Also, an environmental scientist believes that unit
4 was not a part of Chevron modernization/expansion that was challenged and
stopped in 2008.
Chevron had committed in 2010 to
install a real time air monitoring system similar to Contra Costa County
refineries, Valero and Conoco Phillips. Real time air
monitoring provides information about chemical leaks the moment they are
happening. This can assist refinery operations personnel to better assess how
big a leak or hazard might be.
air monitoring can also help emergency responders understand what
chemicals are in the air-giving them key knowledge about how to fight the
hazard. Real time air monitoring can also be important to neighbors of the
refinery. By viewing a website, neighbors can view what they are breathing at
any given time of the day.
After the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, PG&E is
installing a whole army of real time air monitors equipped to detect chemical leaks.
The money they are investing in the equipment is will be far less than the
lives that were lost and the damages during the fire.
Chevron could have saved a serious
amount of money and resources had they caught this leak earlier. This could
have also saved taxpayer county resources, health effects, the closure of BART
and the fear of not knowing what was going to happen next with the inferno.
Voices Silenced, Neighbors cut off
The most infuriating thing of the whole meeting, in a close competition with
the lack of information given, was that the microphones were taken away at 8:10
with more than 30 people still in line with questions and comments.
Moderator Joan Davis checked in at 8
pm and stated that the meeting was originally intended only to go until 8pm,
but that the panel was willing to stay until all comments and questions were
heard. The people in line were given yet another confirmation that they would
finish that meeting with the people that were in line at that moment, and no
more people were to join.
Not sure if it was a spirited plea
for clean air or the mention of the mess and lawsuit in Ecuador, the abrupt
stop to the meeting was unclear. Quickly, Chevron’s consultants and crew
grabbed the mikes and closed down the meeting. Joan Davis turned her eyes down
and walked away and would not talk to anyone. Nigel Hearne was rushed away and
out of the auditorium in minutes.
Chevron has an additional accident
report due to Contra Costa County at Thursday at 5pm.
Prior to leaving, Hearne had
committed that this was the first of many meetings to come about the fire and
addressing the root causes of the fire. It could be months before any real
information is released.
After this blatant disregard to hear
the community out and provide information, Chevron hosted meetings will not be
on my calendar.
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