Company blasted for spill response

May 6, 2008 6:21:04 PM PDT
ABC7 News learned that a chemical leak into the Bay killed dozens of fish and a couple of mallards.

Clean up is still underway after the leak at Reaction Products in Richmond, started over the weekend. But now, police are blasting the company's owner, saying he gave false information and didn't properly report the spill.

Clean up crews are starting to find some dead wildlife as the cleanup is expected to go for three or four more days.

In the meantime, Pt. Pinole Regional Park will stay closed for at least that long and the owner of Reaction Products may face a variety of fines, even criminal charges for failing to properly secure his property and report Monday's spill immediately.

While cleanup crews scoured the Pt. Pinole regional shoreline for toxic toluene, authorities criticized the actions of the owner of the chemical company where the spill originated.

"I was frustrated that this threat that existed was not reported to us immediately," said Lt. Mark Gagan from Richmond Police Department.

According to Richmond police and the Coast Guard, Reaction Products owner Dwight Merrill first discovered the brass fittings on his tanks had been stolen and the tanks were leaking at 8:15 Monday morning.

But Merrill didn't notify Contra Costa's Office of Emergency Services for two more hours. And then, Merrill told the county it was just a 500 gallons of mineral spirits, a substance like paint thinner and that the spill was contained.

When the Coast Guard arrived, they found the spill was actually 3,500 gallons of much more toxic toluene.

"That is not accurate that it was only 500. It was not accurate that it was 'mineral spirits' and it's not accurate that the material was contained," said Lt. Gagan.

The shelter-in-place siren wasn't activated for nearby residents until 2:00 p.m.; nearly six hours after the spill was first detected by the owner.

Tulio Iglesias lives 75 yards from Reaction Products.

"It'll be good to get checked out and see what we got exposed to, because to be honest, to this point. I don't even know what we got exposed to," said Iglesias.

The Coast Guard maintains its immediate cleanup efforts were adequate. There is now a charcoal filtration system in place and vacuum trucks removing contaminated liquid.

The cost of the cleanup could reach $200,000.

"Once the emergency response is over, we will be seeking up to three times the cost of the response, form the responsible party," said Lt. Commander Arex Avanni from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Late on Monday, the Coast Guard reported the death of some small fish and mallards in a drainage ditch. None was in danger, but several species do inhabit the area.

"The California Clapper all use, small harbor marsh smelt, the California black rail. They all use this marsh," said Joe Didonato from the East Bay Regional Parks.

ABC7 News spoke with the owner of the company Dwight Merrill and he did not comment on the accusations made against him by the police and the Coast Guard.

He is cooperating with the investigation, and also health officials do not think the fumes from this spill will ever reach a level that would be harmful to human health.


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