EXCLUSIVE: FBI launches investigation into chemical release from Martinez Refinery

Dan Noyes Image
Saturday, May 27, 2023
EXCLUSIVE: FBI to investigate Martinez Refinery chemical release
The ABC7 News I-Team was there as agents from the FBI and EPA interviewed residents about the Thanksgiving Day Martinez Refining Company release.

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- The ABC7 News I-Team was there Friday as agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Environmental Protection Agency fanned out in Martinez, interviewing residents about the Thanksgiving Day release from the Martinez Refining Company.

We have confirmed that the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency have launched a joint investigation into the incident. A source told the I-Team's Dan Noyes overnight and Friday, we confirmed that the agents have been out in Martinez for two days looking for information.

We found one set of federal agents interviewing a resident along Camino del Sol in Martinez this morning, then another set, and another. About 10 groups of agents from the FBI and the EPA - including some from as far away as Honolulu, went door-to-door. The agents declined to be interviewed on camera, saying they are not authorized to speak on behalf of their agencies. But they did confirm an investigation is now underway into last Thanksgiving's chemical release from Martinez Refining Company.

Noyes reports, "The fact finding has just begun. One agent told me this is basically page 7 out of an 800 page novel."

They tell us the investigation could result in a criminal or civil case involving the company. As much as 24 tons of ash rained down on cars and homes after release from Martinez Refining, county health officials warning residents it could contain dangerous chemicals and that they shouldn't eat produce grown in their yards.

VIDEO: Here's why residents are being warned against eating food grown in soil near Martinez Refinery

Residents near Martinez Refining Company are advised to wait for the results of environmental testing before eating anything grown in soils exposed to the spent catalyst.

Friday, the agents spoke to residents who were surprised to have the FBI knocking at their door, including this one who asked us not to use his name: "It's kind of, never heard that, seen that, so it's kind of interesting."

Dan Noyes: "It was a surprise."

Resident: "Yes."

The agents passed out a card with a QR code that leads to an on-line survey.

The resident said, "All I know is they want us to do that survey to accumulate data, information."

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The survey asks if the resident was home at the time, if they took photographs or video, if they collected samples of the ash and had them tested, and if they've been impacted by the incident.

Martinez officials tell us they had no idea the feds had launched an investigation and were coming to their city to investigate.

"We know that they're in town," said Lauren Sugayan, Martinez assistant city manager. "We know that they're asking questions of our residents and our businesses. We don't know any more at this time.

We also wanted reaction from Martinez Refining Company, so we stopped by the refinery, spoke to an official who gave us contact info for a spokesperson. But, we haven't heard back as of the original reporting.

But on Saturday, May 27, Brandon Matson from the Martinez Refining Company emailed a statement writing:

"We are aware of the Department of Justice's investigation and as a matter of policy do not comment on pending legal matters. We are cooperating with all relevant agencies, including with respect to any ongoing investigations related to the incident. We would, however, like to take this opportunity to once again apologize to the Martinez community for the spent catalyst release on November 24, 2022. We have thoroughly investigated the incident to identify appropriate corrective actions and we are committed to implementing them."

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