At 6:25 Tuesday night, activists in Richmond will gather at the city’s Civic Center. They will ring a bell 15 times to commemorate the 15,000 Richmond residents who went to the hospital one year ago following the refinery fire.

Activist Andres Soto says the ceremony will have a different tone from Saturday’s protest, when more than 200 people were arrested.

The Aug. 6, 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond sent 15,000 people to the hospital.
The Aug. 6, 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond sent 15,000 people to the hospital. (Image: Fototaker.netj)

“We’re really trying to express our sadness about the health and safety of the community and the workers because of the continuing episodic pollution,” he said.

In a statement, Chevron said it is committed to making sure something like last August’s incident does not happen again.

The commemoration comes a day after Chevron USA Inc. pleaded no contest to six misdemeanor criminal charges in Contra Costa County Superior Court. They agreed to pay nearly $2 million in restitution and fines related to last year’s massive fire at its Richmond refinery.The explosion and blaze on Aug. 6, 2012, were caused by a leak from a corroded crude oil distillation pipe, and created a huge plume of polluted black smoke.

In a no-contest plea, a defendant neither admits nor denies a charge, but agrees to accept liability for the sentence that would go with a conviction.

The six misdemeanor charges include two air pollution counts: discharging illegal amounts of carbon from the refinery’s crude oil unit into the air and emitting a visibly dark cloud of contaminants.

The other four counts were for state Labor Code violations affecting workers at the refinery. These counts include:

  • failing to repair and continuing to use equipment operating outside safety limits
  • failing to require employees to use protective respiratory equipment
  • failing to prevent non-emergency personnel from entering the emergency area during the fire
  • failing to implement an effective injury and illness prevention program for employees

Chevron agreed in the settlement to pay $1.28 million in fines and penalties, $575,000 for investigation and response costs by three government agencies, and $145,000 to Richmond BUILD, a worker training organization.

The company also agreed to inspect all carbon steel pipes that may be at risk of corrosion from sulfur compounds in crude oil heated to high temperatures.

“This criminal case achieves our goals of holding Chevron accountable for their conduct, protecting the public and ensuring a safer work environment at the refinery,” said District Attorney Mark Peterson.

Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said workers have spent more than 1.9 million hours repairing and improving the crude oil unit and have inspected more than 16,000 pipe components during the past year.

  • ED RN

    I’ve heard this report all day and have cringed every time the 15000 people to hospital stat is mentioned. I am an ER RN in one of the East Bay hospitals that was overwhelmed by said 15k people. The reality? Most people said they needed proof of visit to justify time off work and to prove they were seen in case of a lawsuit. The vast majority of them had nothing more than an occasional cough as the chief complaint.

    Please try and reflect this reality in your reports.

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