Metal theft leads to chemical spill in bay

May 6, 2008 7:30:54 AM PDT
The U.S. Coast Guard is trying to figure out how much of a spilled chemical is still floating in the bay. It's the result of a burglary at the Reaction Products Company in Richmond.

Investigators say someone stole the brass valve from this tank, at the Reaction Products Chemical Company, near Richmond's Point Pinole Regional Shoreline. The tank leaked 3,300 gallons of toluene, which is a widely-used chemical in household solvents.

"The toluene is very thin and has escaped under the sausage boom and has discharged into the bay," said Jason Munoz, from the U.S. Coastguard.

The environmental clean-up company, Clean Harbors, says the containment booms failed because the absorbent material is made for oil, not toluene which is water soluble. More than 1,500 households were told to stay indoors for an hour on Monday, until the air was deemed safe.

"They have recovered a mixture of toluene and water, and that estimate is about 3,000 gallons, and that's a mixture," said Munoz.

Investigators believe thieves also stole the copper coupling around this water meter, and the flooding washed the chemicals into the bay. The missing brass valve and copper coupling is part of a huge theft problem, nationwide.

"They've taken the plaques off of grave sites and grave stones," said Sgt. Joe Silva from the Richmond Police Department.

And now the criminal theft of precious metals has led to an unknown amount of chemicals to seep into the marsh. So far, the Fish and Game Department says there's no evidence that wildlife has been affected, but it's still early.

Clean up crews will be back, Tuesday morning around 7 a.m. and it's expected to take about three more days to complete the clean up.


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