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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 panel included:
Nigel Hearne, Chevron Richmond refinery General Manager
Randy Sawyer, Director Hazardous Materials Division, Contra Costa Health Services
Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager (why wasn’t the Mayor invited on the panel?)
Dr. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa Public Health Director
Katherine Hern, Contra Costa County Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator
Jeff McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District
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 emergency rooms.
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Chevron lit the northern California bubble on fire on Monday night with a blaze that lasted for hours. More than three hours later, there is no information available to area residents about why Chevron is on fire and what we are breathing.
Diesel fuel leak? Chevron representatives (Nigel Hearne, great accent) have no idea how this fire happened. They are providing no information about the chemicals that may be present in the air.
While Chevron stammers and stumbles at the press conference, residents are filling up area hospitals with reports of breathing problems. Unfortunately, like the 1999 and 2007 fires, the information about health effects will not come out until after the fire-it could be weeks, possibly months.
Have no fear-the Bay Area Air Quality Management district, our local EPA, is on the scene (snicker). Global Community Monitor has long advocated for real time air monitoring and for regulators to own equipment for emergencies-like a fire. Yet, no information has been shared with the public. Chevron promised the City of Richmond several years ago they would install a state of the art real time fenceline monitor system, similar to Valero and Conoco Phillips, in return for a tax deal. While Chevron has enjoyed several years of the tax deal, they have failed to install the system.
However, these news reports failed to take into consideration that Chevron wanted to do more than modernize-they wanted to expand so that they could process heavier crude oil-Canadian tar sands. Tar sands oil would bring more accidents and emissions.
For now, families are still reeling from a stressful night, people are recovering from trips to the hospital and we are all bracing for the increased cost at the pump.