The report also questions why an employee was working so many hours with little rest.
MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Employees at the Martinez Refining Company didn't know they were releasing chemicals during the 2022 Thanksgiving Day incident, according to a report from Contra Costa County Health Services.
"The personnel did not recognize there was a release that was occurring," said Scott Berger, the independent investigator looking into the refinery. "They did not associate that the 4th stage separator was at a high-level with a condition that would be leading towards a significant catalyst release."
The report, which the county health department presented in a public zoom meeting, shows the issues started in the days before Thanksgiving. An air system component in one of the systems failed and had to be replaced. The report says an employee worked 20 hour shifts to fix it while taking little rest. After the replaced the component, they had issues getting the system restarted. Pressure began to build, so operators started two flaring incidents. The worker who had been on those long shifts gave directions to stop flaring. Pressure continued to build, and a valve that was supposed to be closed rapidly, wasn't.
"The striper slide valve was not closed fast enough," Berger said. "So what happened is that regenerator catalyst level went quite high."
The report from the county says issues don't only fall on the employees that day. They claim PBF Energy, who operate the Martinez Refining Company, did not properly train it's employees. Also, they question why an employee was working so many hours with little rest.
"I am a little surprised a lot of this was focused on the human error with this event," said Wendy Ke, co-founder of Healthy Martinez. "To me, this doesn't seem fair the employees, and this is more the refinery management or the company."
Ke and her organization are focused on holding the refinery accountable for some of it's recent events. She wonders if the valves mentioned in the report are damaged.
"Whether they have been evaluated for corrosion or for residue and if that is part of the failure," she said. "And I wonder how much that factored into the some of the releases and flaring we have seen recently."
Her group wants the county and the refinery to be more transparent going forward. She worries for the health and safety of the city.
"It's a stressful situation to constantly question if your air is safe to breathe," she said. "We all deserve to have clean air. That is one of our rights."
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