MARTINEZ, Calif. -- Contra Costa Health (CCH) officials say they were not informed by the Martinez Refining Company (MRC) that there would be a 12-hour-long release of possibly harmful chemicals the night of Thanksgiving last week.
State law and county policy require the MRC to report chemical discharges to the CCH within 15 minutes. However, officials say the release was only brought to their attention through social media posts and when they contacted the refinery themselves a day-and-a-half following the discharge.
At about 9:30 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, local residents reported a powdery substance on their cars and around the area. This continued into Friday morning.
Samples of the "spent catalyst" substance that were taken by the health department over the weekend showed that it contained higher-than-normal amounts of heavy metals such as aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium, and zinc. The county public health director, Dr. Ori Tzvieli, says there have been no reports of illness related to the release.
Had the MRC notified the CCH, Matthew Kaufman, the deputy director of health services for the county, says an alert would have likely been sent out via the community's warning system.
In a Facebook post by the MRC, they say that they are providing information on the incident to both the CCH and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. MRC has also made arrangements with Autopia Car Wash to provide residents and businesses affected by the discharge with free car washes through this Friday.
While Tzvieli says "a single event like this would be unlikely to cause any major health problems," he says that they are lucky the release happened during a time when most people were in their homes as exposure to these metals over a long period of time could cause health issues.
The CCH is currently investigating the incident. Charges against the refinery could come from the county District Attorney's Office along with penalties issued by the health department.
More information about the release is being posted to cchealth.org as it becomes available.
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