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Whew, 2014 went by quickly and we were busy!


GCM produced a landmark year, bringing long-term projects (2+ years) to a close in 2014.  Working in partnership with Coming Clean Collaborative and community partners to simultaneously release Warning Signs, a national report, and journal article on gas operations/fracking in late October. The report and article featured GCM’s monitoring work around gas operations in six states and provided a snapshot of the impacts of the industry throughout the country.

Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) issued a statewide Air Quality Report, Breathe In New Mexico, featuring
Bucket Brigades in Albuquerque, Mesquite and the Navajo Reservation in November.

CommunityRecycleIn partnership with Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Committee for A Better Arvin, we gathered a trail of evidence exposing the local compost facility’s poisoning of the local community. The publication, Rotten Neighbor: The Story of Community Recycling and Resource Recovery and the South Kern Communities Held Hostage by Neglect was released on the 3rd anniversary of two young workers’ deaths in October.

GCM also closed out the East Bay Body Burden Study in August.

GCM worked with partners to analyze monitoring data and release reports on the movement of goods including:

  • Argentine/Turner, Kansas: Focusing on a nearby rail yard, GCM and partners released a report that showed unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, levels high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or to raise the death rate among residents. The project was featured in a front-page story in the Kansas City Star.
  • Seward, Alaska: In July, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, Community Action Against Toxins and Global Community Monitor released the results of our collaborative air quality testing study. The report samples revealed that air around the Seward Coal Loading Facility expose neighbors to crystalline silica.
  • Houston, Texas: After closing out a year of sampling, we issued a report suggesting that every day the 10,000 residents of Galena Park are being exposed to unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution from 5,000 diesel trucks entering and exiting Houston’s port.
  • Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: Working with local residents, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition, GCM launched a coal export monitoring project in 2014.

GCM’s Long Term/In Depth Partnerships

Central Valley:

  • GCM has begun developing a model for improving the acceptance of community-based air monitoring and data into air district policy and decision making and enforcement of existing rules.
  • GCM’s Central Valley Organizer responded to complaints about gas odors in residents’ homes in Arvin, CA. Sample results revealed over twenty toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene. The County evacuated eight homes. It was determined that fracking waste gas was beneath the homes. After months of advocating, Governor Jerry Brown intervened on behalf of the State. Flare in Shafter
  • We are completing a pilot one-year ozone monitoring program in Central Valley.  GCM obtained funding to purchase various new air sensors and field test an ultrafine particulate monitor

Bay Area:

  • Chevron’s real time Air Monitoring system in Richmond, CA went online with GCM serving as the City of Richmond’s expert advising the staff and ensuring accountability. This system is the best state-of-the-art refinery air-monitoring project in the nation and establishes a national model.
  • GCM has been participating in SF Bay Area Air Board meetings to advocate for the strongest Refinery Crude Slate and Tracking Rule in the nation. aimeecbrcrop
  • GCM provided guidance, planning and fundraising assistance to a newly formed Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition in the San Francisco Bay Area to help address crude by rail projects and refinery expansions.

2014 New Projects:

GCM launched two new air-monitoring collaborations with Jamaica Environment Trust in Clarendon & St. Anne
Parish, Jamaica and the Neighbors for Clean Air in Portland, OR.


GCM organized a national gathering, the Community-Based Science for Action Conference, in November in New Orleans. This three-day event was co-hosted by local partners, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Public Lab.

The event included a toxic tour of coal trains and a coal terminal in Gretna and Ironton, LA. Over 50 people, primarily industrial occupation doctors and nurses associated with the American Public Health Association Conference, attended the tour.  The following two days brought together approximately 150 attendees participating in 20 sessions featuring presenters from leading organizations and academic institutions.  Feedback from presenters and attendees has been extremely positive and supportive.  GCM was able to offer 35 scholarships to community members and presenters.
In addition, we participated in the Rally Against Fracking in Sacramento and all four of the Healing Walks in the Bay Area, organized by Idle No More.

Students at Don't Frack CA Rally

We also participated in numerous conferences and finally got a GCM Advisory Board organized to work on:

  • Expanding GCM’s monitoring tool kit
  • Build a place to provide resources for communities (online forums, website)
  • Leverage & legitimize current methods
  • Data presentation
  • Alternatives to fossil fuels

So Happy New Year!  And let’s see what we can accomplish in 2015.

Recently I have been spending more time in city and county meetings where the topic is theoretically how local government will regulate the activity of a local refinery – which is actually a multi-national multi-billion dollar entity with a local franchise.  Somehow during these meetings the regulation of health and safety of the community always seems to take a back seat to jobs and money.

We all know  one thing that these big oil companies have is a lot of MONEY. For example, the 2013 profits for the BIG 5 oil companies, you know, BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell­­­­­­ – were $93.3 billion last year! That’s $177 G’s  per minute. 

Admittedly, Big Oil companies do have some expenses. But where they are spending this money Top 5 oil co graphmay surprise you.

Over the past 15 years, Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby Sacramento and $143.3 million on California political candidates and campaigns. I wouldn’t know from experience but I’d bet you can make a lot of friends with that much money dropping out of your pockets, year after year.

These friends might attach more importance to Big Oil’s concerns about over-regulation than they would to a resident who might not have the funds to contribute to anyone’s campaign fund.

A recent report by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute (ACCE) and Common Cause, “Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California’s Oil Companies Funnel Funds into the Legislature,” speaks to the extreme power of the Oil and Gas Lobby, as well as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) in Sacramento.

Dan Bacher, California Central Valley reporter for IndyBay, in his review of the report, noted that the

“fact that the oil industry is the largest corporate lobby in California, one that dominates environmental politics like no other industry“ makes California “much closer to Louisiana and Florida in its domination by corporate interests.”

Another way oil companies grease the wheels of influence is through their charitable giving in local oil and gas lobbycommunities. Where I live in Martinez, the yellow Shell refinery logo is on virtually all city events including our local Earth Day celebration located at the historic home of iconic environmentalist John Muir.  In Richmond, Chevron ladles out millions of dollars to local social services nonprofits working with low-income Richmond residents while simultaneously polluting their community.

These kinds of donations seem  to  reduce  short term costs for the local government, but there is a very real long term cost as well.

And one of the most insidious dynamics is that city budgets are structurally reliant on tax revenue from refineries.   According to the Contra Costa Times, “tens of millions in Chevron tax revenue bolster the [Richmond] city budget, providing police and other services that similarly sized cities in Contra Costa County can only dream about.”

It certainly seems like Big Oil has a stranglehold on California politics and regulatory agencies. Recently, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) came out in favor of Chevron’s expansion project.  After being advised by members of the Stationary Source committee that the appropriate behavior would be to merely answer questions at the Richmond meetings, BAAQMD Chief Air Pollution Control Officer, Jack Broadbent, chose to sign up as a speaker at both Richmond public meetings. He spoke in favor of the Chevron project and formally stated that there was no scientifically feasible way to mitigate condensable particulate matter for the Chevron project. This kind of emission from refineries is composed of carcinogenic particles about 1 micron in width that can lodge deep down in your lungs – see reference below.


Prior to the two Richmond meetings, it had been clearly spelled out for the BAAQMD Stationary Source committee by multiple experts (with Broadbent present) that there was a mitigation technique (SCAQMD FEA Rule 1105.1) that would lessen pollution in Richmond by some 56 tons of the worst stuff you can breathe per year. And it has been mitigated since 2003 in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. So, choosing not to mitigate the really dangerous stuff pouring out of Chevron, like cancer-causing condensable particulate matter, is an impossible conclusion to reach by the authority charged with air quality control. Especially when you know otherwise. This is a 56 ton stain on the BAAQMD board and staff. And 56 tons of micron sized particles are unnecessarily heading for the lungs of the men, women, children, and animals that live or work in Richmond over the next year.

Is anyone at these BAAQMD meetings pushing for cleaner air except the community rights advocates?  What influence removes the teeth from the bill, waters down the regulation at the last minute, and causes people to lose their most basic moral compass?  A healthy community and environment should always be the priority.  And nothing should influence you to believe otherwise.

-Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group, August 14, 2014.

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over three decades, I never realized how much oil flows in and out of this region until I moved to Contra Costa County. From Richmond to Martinez, our famous estuary is ringed with 5 major refineries.

1) There’s the infamous CChevron firehevron refinery, built in 1902 in Richmond. It’s the one that sent 15,000 residents to local emergency rooms due to Chevron’s continued neglect of a corroding pipe. The problem pipe was reported multiple times by employees (since as far back as 2002) before it eventually cracked and caught fire, sending out an enormous toxic black cloud.


2) Don’t forget the PhillipREFINERY RAILROAD/METROs 66 refinery, built in 1896 in Rodeo. Formerly known as Unocal, in 1994 this refinery released an estimated 200 tons of toxic Catacarb into the air over a sixteen day period. As a result more than 1,200 people required medical attention. Their proposed expansion calls for a large propane storage farm that has the fenceline communities scared.


3) Originally an ExxonMvaleroobil facility built in 1969, Valero bought the Benicia refinery in 2000. About 8 months ago, three rail cars filled with petroleum coke jumped the tracks while leaving the facility. Still, the Valero plan is to expand their rail spur to deliver two 50-car “unit trains” full of extreme crude oil, including high sulfur Canadian tar sands every single day. Of course that also means two 50-car “unit trains” going out every day.


Last but not least, there’s the town with two refineries, my home, Martinez.

4) The Tesoro Martinez refiTesoro Golden Eagle refinerynery was b­­­­­­­uilt in 1903 and originally called the Avon refinery. After purchase by Tosco in 1976, this facility had two major accidents in the late 1990’s that resulted in the death of 5 workers. After that, the refinery was referred to by locals as the “death tower.” In 2000, it was sold by Tosco to Phillips 66, and rebranded as the Tesoro “Golden Eagle” refinery. But it’s still known locally as a rogue facility. After pulling out of two (albeit voluntary) worker safety programs in 2012, there were two separate sulfuric acid spills in February of 2014. Both accidents injured workers. More stunning was Tesoro’s bold and disrespectful refusal to allow officials from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board onto the site to investigate the February 12th incident. The Safety Board was eventually allowed in but that was the first refusal of entry to the Chemical Safety Board in U.S. refinery history.

5) And then there’s the Mshell flaresartinez Shell Oil refinery, the U.S. subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, in operation since 1915. In 1988, they spilled 400,000 gallons (9,500 barrels) of San Joaquin heavy crude oil into the Carquinez Strait, Peyton Slough, and Suisun Bay. They did not report the spill for a month. Shell was forced to pay nearly $20 million. At the time, it was the largest amount ever recovered from an oil company for damage to natural resources.


So, just how much oil is currently being refined at all 5 facilities, you might ask? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration:
Richmond 250,000 bpd (barrels per day)
Rodeo            80,000 bpd
Benicia        170,000 bpd
Martinez      331,000 bpd (both Shell and Tesoro)
Total          831,000 bpd

That’s about 25 milliooil-barrels-on-forkliftn barrels per month, every month! And, according to EPA numbers, these 5 refineries emitted 3.4 million pounds of toxics into our air in 2012! Some of this oil comes in/out by marine vessel, tanker truck, and/or by pipeline. But the increase in extreme crude oil travelling along our outdated rail infrastructure is our latest concern in Contra Costa and Solano counties. And we intend to fight it all the way!

Stay tuned for more on the struggle against Crude by Rail in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond!


-Tom Griffith is a co-founder of the Martinez Environmental Group and a consultant for Global Community Monitor.

gcm-logoWhew, 2013 is just about over and looking back, Global Community Monitor has been busy!!

Check out our victories and accomplishments as well as some of the groundwork we’ve laid to move forward.


Buffalo, NY: Company Tried and Convicted for Environmental Crimes, Reduction of Cancer Causing Benzene

Tonawanda Coke and their Environmental Manager were found guilty of 14 acts violating the Clean Air Act in March.  This decision came almost ten years after a GCM Bucket Brigade training and air samples exposing benzene in the Tonawanda air. Through relentless activism by residents of Tonawanda, and the the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, Tonawanda Coke will be $200 million in fines and cleaning up their act.

Chicago, IL: Community Wins Demands for Rail Yard Expansion

Environmental Law Policy Center (ELPC), Sustainable Englewood Initiatives (SEI), Northwestern University Environmental Law Clinic and other community partners have successfully negotiated a fair deal to reduce air pollution and increase parkland with the rail yard expansion in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

The majority of the groups think that the monitoring played a huge role in pushing the City and Norfolk Southern to come to an agreement.  By the time we were installing the monitors, the City was reaching out to ELPC to set up a time to meet.

Scrap Metal Rule: Building On Metal Recycler Air Pollution Policy Victory

Due to GCM’s persistent efforts, and the release of our report – Green Industry? Under the Radar: Air Pollution from Metal Recyclers, the BAAQMD became the first agency in the nation to issue a rule to regulate toxic emissions from these facilities. The Air District estimates that these rules will reduce particulate matter emissions in the Bay Area by about 12 tons per year.

Train the Trainer: GCM has just begun a pilot “Train the Trainer” project with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) based in Anchorage, AK. GCM staff joined ACAT for a one day training in Anchorage and then ventured together to Nuiqsut, a small native village on the North Slope which is deeply entrenched in oil & gas development with no emergency response options for accidents.


With the expansion of the Panama Canal, a lot more traffic can be expected in our port communities, as well as communities living near freeways and transit hubs.  Many residents are concerned about the potential increase in diesel emissions, especially when so many are already overburdened by toxic air pollution.

Houston, TX: Partner organization Air Alliance Houston (AAH) has been a pivotal networking ally.  Our results demonstrate that the “official” State monitor for PM 2.5 do not represent the accurately PM impacts in the the Ship Channel and fall just below the Federal standard.  This monitor’s readings will determine if the Houston area is out of compliance and trigger a multi-million-billion dollar clean up.

Kansas: GCM conducted a training in Gardner, KS to collect baseline measurements prior to the completion of a huge new intermodal terminal which scheduled to go online in this community.

GCM also trained residents in Argentine/Turner area which is home to a huge existing intermodal terminal. Both communities are near Kansas City.

Plaquemines Parish, LA: GCM held a training in July. Plaquemines Parish Port is the gateway to the Ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge and to all of the Mississippi River Valley export corridor. Two of the country’s biggest coal terminals are located at this Port.  We are partnered with the Gulf Restoration Network and the local Sierra Club Chapter.  One site is the Historic Freed Slave Community of Ironton.

Although the Keystone XL Pipeline is in the forefront of the tar sands debate, many US cities are already seeing heavy crude oil in their communities.

Mayflower, AR: EMERGENCY RESPONSE Tar sands Oil Spill

On March 29, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured releasing 80,000 gallons of Wabascan (Alberta, Canada) tar sands crude, also known as bitumen, in Mayflower, a small suburban town outside of Little Rock. The pipeline carries tar sands from Alberta to Illinois to Texas via Arkansas.

GCM trained Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group on the Bucket Brigade in 2012, after the spill, the Citizens group immediately went onsite and gained access for the first week-taking samples, documenting health symptoms and also getting sick.

Mobile 045Whiting, IN: GCM conducted a community training on fenceline real time air monitoring results in East Chicago/Whiting, IN, with long standing community partner, Calumet Project. This training is a direct result of the lawsuit with BP Whiting on their tar sands expansion in 2008.

Toledo, OH: GCM submitted comments Ohio EPA in June 2013 opposing BP/Husky’s tar sands expansion.  Following on the string of expansions of Midwestern refineries (BP Whiting, Marathon Detroit), a BP-Husky joint venture is pushing forward with a $2.5 billion expansion of its refinery in Toledo, Ohio to process tar sands crude oil.

Benicia, CA: GCM is working with local community group Good Neighbor Steering Committee and the Natural Resources Defense Council on stopping tar sands from being brought in by rail to Valero oil refinery in Benicia.

Pittsburgh, CA: GCM staff is working with the newly formed Pittsburgh Defense Council to counter  the WesPac Energy oil terminal and transfer station. WesPac Energy-Pittsburg LLC plans to turn a 125-acre area of industrial land near homes by the Pittsburg Marina into a facility to unload crude oil from ships and rail cars, store it in giant round tanks, and then send it through pipelines to local refineries. Under the revised plan, it will be possible to offload an average of 242,000 barrels a day of crude oil or partially refined crude oil from both ships and rail cars.

Well, this is just going to have to be a surprise for next year.  Get ready, it’s going to be a big one!!

And Just a Few More – By Location

Bay Area

Body Burden: GCM is continuing work on this study, despite delays. Since May 2013, we have 12 families consented to participate in the project, have taken 11 questionnaires, four wipe samples at the participants home and five blood samples.  Samples will be tested for the same heavy metals we documented in the air, to determine just how impacted nearby neighbors may be.

Richmond: GCM signed a contract with the city of Richmond to advise on the Community Air Monitoring as a direct result of the Chevron fire on August 6, 2012. Chevron is installing real time air monitoring equipment with Argos Environmental.

GCM is advising on locations of monitors, community engagement on how to use the information and overall emissions reductions. You can check it out here.

Central Valley

Arvin: In September GCM has closed an active two year project with the town of Arvin and the Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. During the past two years, the Committee have recorded 440 pollution incidents, taken 15 bucket air samples and 20 particulate matter samples. Results show elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and diesel. GCM has also worked to pilot a new ozone monitor in this ozone impacted community.

All groups will continue to engage with the Air District, County Supervisors and EPA on air quality issues related to the Community Recycling (composting) facility in nearby Lamont.  GCM has worked with CRPE and CBA to establish a new working relationship and to begin another year long project. Additionally, GCM expanded our team and hired Gustavo Aguirre Jr. as the Central Valley Organizer.


GCM continues to develop projects with international partners in China, Jamaica, Mexico, Egypt, Philippines, and Chile.

India: GCM organizational partner Shweta Narayan from Chennai, Tamil Nadu in Southern India visited the US.  Community Environmental Monitors continue to work around cement kiln incinerators throughout the country.

You can listen to an interview with Shweta and Denny on this podcast by Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff as part of a series on “Good Stuff”:



US Fencelines, ongoing technical assistance

New Mexico: GCM is partnering with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) on a statewide initiative. To date New Mexico and Navajo nation leaders have taken samples including:

  • Seven bucket samples documenting the fingerprint of asphalt operations and sixteen particle and diesel samples exposing elevated exposure to the idling trains in the San Jose neighborhood of Albuquerque.

  • Over 40 particulate matter samples documenting the dust levels from the BHP coal mine on the Navajo nation reserve. These samples have consistently shown levels higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) 24 hour health based guidelines for PM 10. Further testing on crystalline silica from coal is being conducted.

  • Taken seven bucket samples in Mesquite. These samples gave solid evidence that Helena Chemicals operations are not limited to their property and are over flowing into the community.

Delaware: GCM continues to work with community partners and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Claymont: Is on the fourth year of their air monitoring work focused on Evraz Steel. Evraz has installed a portion of the environmental controls to reduce emissions at the facility.  Recent samples and complaints demonstrated that dust problems continues to be serious and led to further enforcement actions against the facility.

Delaware City: GCM conducted a follow up training in Delaware City around the PBF Energy refinery on particulate air monitoring.

So often, we, in the environmental justice movement are bombarded with immense challenges and often heartbreaking losses from corporations that seem undefeatable, legislators that don’t seem to make decisions with the people’s best interest in mind and legal systems that are unbearably slow.  And no matter how hard we work on one issue, there’s always that other one that seems to slip past us.

We know we’ve got a difficult task ahead of us, and no one will argue that this isn’t tough work.  But, here’s the thing, we need to celebrate our victories along the way or else we’ll all end up feeling defeated, and essentially will be defeated.

Every year, The Goldman family hosts a ceremony for the annual Goldman Prize recipients.  Many of us pull out our best outfits and dust off those dress shoes to go celebrate six grassroots leaders that have made significant and widely beneficial changes within their community.  We’re reminded change is possible and rejoice in their presence and maybe even secretly hope that shaking their hands will give us a little more patience and strength in our own challenges for grassroots change.

However, since the Goldman Prize is only awarded to six individuals from around the world, once a year, we’d like to outline a few more victories to give us all a little more patience and strength in our fight for environmental justice.

  1. New York: Tonawanda Coke was found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

    Image from the Buffalo Record

When nearby residents started collecting samples with GCM’s Bucket Brigade, sample results revealed startling high levels of benzene, levels that were 75 times higher than acceptable health standards, in the surrounding air.  The EPA and local legislators took notice and began their own investigation and in March 2013, after a long and complex trial, a guilty verdict was reached by the jury!

     2.    India: Sterlite Copper Plant ordered closed after gas leak.

On March 28, 2013 nearly 5,000 people marched to the Sterlite Copper Plant in protest of a toxic gas leak that occurred five days before.  Two days later, “officials from 10 governmental departments arrived by the vanload”.  Hours later, the plant had been shut down and the electricity connection to the copper plant had been disconnected.

     3.    Little Village, Chicago, Illinois: 2 Coal Fired Plants to shut down

Image from

Although this is a victory honored with the Goldman Prize it still deserves much mention here.  A Harvard study linked more than 40 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year to the toxic emissions from the two plants, with children being the most vulnerable to the plants’ pollution.  After a ten year grassroots battle, residents earned support from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Faced with expensive requirements to upgrade pollution controls and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the owners announced the shutdown of the Crawford and Fisk coal burning plants.

     4.     Installation of air monitors along the fenceline of dangerous oil refineries

Many residents living in environmental justice communities believe,rightfully so, that they at least have the Right to Know what’s in the air that they are breathing.  That will allow them to make informed decisions for their health and the health of their families.  As fair as that sounds, residents are often faced with strong opposition from their industrial neighbors on this very subject.  So when oil refineries start footing the bill to install air monitors on their fenceline, we need to chalk that up as a win! 

In 2004, monitors at an oil refinery in Rodeo, CA were upgraded to include a real-time, public internet feed.  In May 2012, the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana agreed to install air monitors along their fenceline and rumor has it that Chevron in Richmond, CA is working with the City to install similar equipment at their refinery.

      5.     An estimated 40,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Forward on Climate Rally in February 2013.

Image from

Anyone who’s ever done any kind of movement organizing knows just how hard it is to get 40,000 people to stand together in solidarity for something, and anyone who’s spent a February in D.C knows how unbearably cold it can be.  So let’s recognize how big of a win this is!  Our message about how dirty tar sands oil is has

reached the masses.  It was only a few years ago, people thought I was collecting signatures on a petition against Tarzan.  This past February, those 5,000 signatures collected were distributed to the White House in connection with one of the largest climate justice rallies in US history.

All of these victories have help people breathe easier, created less pollution in the air, less asthma and an opportunity for people to actually have their inherit right of living with clean air.  Although, we can only list out these five at the moment (we need to get back to turning our work in CA’s Central Valley into something that will make this list!) there are many more!  Have one that we missed?  Feel free to tell us about it below!  We share our challenges, we need to remember to share the victories as well.

Hopefully, these big victories will remind us- “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  

Alright folks, it’s the day we’ve all been waiting for!

Drum roll please……………….

Image from MSNBC

Cal/OSHA has issued its fine on Chevron for the Aug. 6th fire at the Richmond Refinery!

Yup, it’s nearly a million dollars, the most the agency has ever imposed on an oil refinery in California, but is it enough to make Chevron change its ways?

Rep. George Miller has his doubts, stating “I believe it alone is an insufficient assurance to the West County residents and the refinery’s workers that they will receive the necessary safety protections they deserve.”  He even continues to say that, “Our community needs more than just promises that safety will improve. We need to see actual changes at this facility implemented and verified.”

Although, it seems the residents of Richmond have George on their side, Chevron is not willing to surrender just yet.  Chevron is planning to appeal the fine, sending this ruling back to the depth of bureaucracy while the Richmond community lays waiting for a potentially worse disaster.

Chevron has already had two major fires in the past five years!  With the pipes at the Chevron Richmond Refinery acting as a ticking time-bomb, how are residents expected to believe that Chevron is putting safety first?

OSHA claimed that Chevron did not even follow the recommendations of its own inspectors to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire; did not follow its own emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was identified; and did not protect its employees working at the leak site.

Ok, so back to the $1 million dollar fine.  Has the sticker shock worn off yet?

The reality is that $1 million dollars to Chevron means something much different than $1 million to me (and probably you, too).  And, the fine, in and of itself, is not going to protect the families living in the community.

15,000 people were rushed to local hospitals following the Aug. 6th fire.  Independent testing of the fallout following the fire showed the presence of highly carcinogenic chemicals on our window sills, outdoor furniture and play equipment.  Does a million dollar fine compensate for that?

The more we talk about the amount of the fine, the less we’re talking about the safety of the community residents.  It’s really clear to see that Chevron is putting profits over people, YET AGAIN!

So how are we really going to hold Chevron responsible?  Cal/OSHA took the lead by issuing the largest fine allowed by the State, but we – the community residents- need to make sure it’s enforced.  We need to make sure Chevron is following through on its commitment to safety with persistent follow-up.

Image from Fit For Life: Richmond, CA

Agencies move slow and court proceedings move even slower, but we can never forget the risks Chevron poses to our community and we must fight tirelessly to ensure that Chevron is operating in the safest possible way, to protect our children, parents and the broader community.

Is anyone paying attention here?!

Chevron’s Richmond, CA refinery has had two major accidents, sending thousands to local hospitals, in the past five years!

Currently, they are pushing plans through the City of Richmond’s permitting process to repair the crude unit that caused the fire on August 6, 2012, but it doesn’t seem that Chevron has any intention of following a City Council Resolution to use the highest standards and best technology in the repair.

And they’re planning to reopen this unit early next year?!

Turns out, Chevron claims that they are not ‘planning’ to increase production, therefore can forgo requirements to install the newest clean air technologies.  But- this poses a serious question.  Why wouldn’t a company want to install the best clean air technology?  Do they really not care about the health and safety of Richmond residents?

The Mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin, shares similar concerns over not ‘seeing the best available technology’.  She’s continuing to hold Chevron accountable by bringing about a resolution to City Council ensuring transparency from Chevron.

Yet, Chevron continues to spin the story, blaming the community residents for the delay in repairs at the Richmond Refinery.  Something many community residents have seen many times before.

Chevron has been polluting the City of Richmond, and surrounding areas, for decades.  They’ve shown time and time again that they do not properly maintain their facility and they consistently lie to the residents, City Council and the BAAQMD.  For Chevron to defy the Richmond City Council is just Chevron doing business as usual.

So what happens when the nearby refinery has an accident?

The GCM team springs into action!

On August 6, 2012 an explosion happened at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA that led to a fire at the facility.  This industrial accident sent a huge plume of smoke into the sky and left heavy soot fallout on residents’ homes, yards and gardens.  Neither Chevron nor the Bay Area Air District had any monitoring data on what neighbors could have been exposed to, the GCM team connected with families that had noticed heavy soot on their property just after the fire.

We collected 10 wipe samples and analysed them for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s) and found some alarming results.

But here’s a little insight into first-hand experiences of collecting air samples with community members.

First, we reached out to local residents through online sources, media outlets and email list serves.  In response, we were contacted by a slew of folks expressing their concerns.  Then Senior Program Manager Jessica Hendricks prioritized locations for sampling and hit the pavement.  Here’s her story:

After meandering through busy work schedules and the windy roads of the Richmond Hills, I knock on the door of the first house.  A woman answers, carrying a baby and kicking children’s toys out of the front hallway.  She’s extremely concerned for her young children’s health and worried about how to clean up the oily soot fallout.

We discussed ways to limit exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.  But, the truth is, we don’t have the answers and that’s part of the problem.  No air monitoring had been done at the time of the accident, so we just don’t know.  After connecting with some more families, I found that many folks in the greater Richmond area shared her same concerns.  “What is it? Is it harmful to my family’s health?”  The reality is that these questions need very real answers, from the agencies responsible for protecting our health and the companies responsible for maintaining the safety of their refineries.  Neighbors have the right to know, and deserve comprehensive air monitoring data.

She gestures to the back deck, where she’s noticed the most of the sooty fallout, which is also where she keeps bees for honey.  So I step outside, try to ignore the swarm of honey bees and pull out the sampling kit.  As the bees start landing on me, she yells from behind the patio door- “You’re not allergic to bees, are you?”  Luckily I’m not, and I quickly wiped up the oily soot and placed it back in the tube to be sent to the lab.

Off to the next house, which I need to drive to Hayward for…

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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.

Chevron representative Nigel Hearne does not know anything
photo from

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.

Some news reports cited environmentalists’ and community residents’ challenge of the Chevron modernization in 2008 as a possible reason why the fire is happening.

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.

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