Monday night's Chevron Refinery fire as seen from the Berkeley Hills. (Daniel Parks: Flickr)
Monday night's Chevron Refinery fire as seen from the Berkeley Hills. (Daniel Parks: Flickr)

Contra Costa Health Services has posted a succinct “Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Chevron Fire on August 6, 2012.” [PDF] It’s good information — cleaning fruits, vegetables, avoiding groundwater, health impact, etc.

I republish it here, in its entirety:

1. What are the health impacts from the refinery fire?

Smoke can cause throat and eye irritation, though it generally is not serious
if the exposure is limited. These symptoms should resolve on their own after a few days for most people. Exposure to smoke can be more serious for people with pre-existing lung disease, such as asthma, and they may experience wheezing or have trouble breathing. As of August 8, more than 1,700 people have gone to the emergency room with nose, throat or eye irritation or respiratory issues, although none have been hospitalized.

2. What chemicals were released into the air and how dangerous are they?

A variety of chemicals were released during the Chevron Richmond refinery fire. (See list of chemicals from each sample location.) Smoke particulates, which are what makes smoke black, were the major concern during this fire. Smoke particulates can irritate the throat, lungs and eyes particularly in those with pre-existing lung disease, such as asthma. Benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer, and other toxic chemicals can also be present in smoke. Test results from air samples that were taken by Contra Costa Hazardous Materials Response Team and staff from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) were analyzed by BAAQMD and show the level of benzene and other toxic chemicals was below harmful levels during the fire and poses no risk of cancer. We do not have good measurements of the smoke particulates that impacted the community.

3. Is it safe to eat fruits and vegetables from my garden?

Yes, it’s safe. It’s always a good idea to wash fruits and vegetables before eating. If you live in an area that was affected by the refinery fire, you can wash fruits and vegetables from your garden with soap and a mild detergent (like liquid dish soap). Washing your fruits and vegetables will remove any particulates that might have been on the surface from smoke. You also can peel off the outer layer of lettuce or peel your fruit if you are concerned.

4. Is our water safe for drinking?

The tap water in Richmond is one of the best waters in the country and it is safe for you to drink and to give to your pets. The ground water from local wells in Richmond should not be used for drinking by you or your pets.

5. What should I do if there is soot on my car, patio furniture or outdoor play structures?

If there is residue on your car, patio furniture or outdoor play structure wash it with a mild detergent and water.

6. Why was shelter-in-place lifted if the air sample results aren’t in yet?

The shelter-in-place was lifted because the fire at Chevron was under control and our hazardous materials monitors confirmed there was no ongoing exposure.

7. What should I do if I am having trouble breathing or have burning eyes and a sore throat?

People who are experiencing trouble breathing should seek medical attention. If you have burning eyes and a sore throat contact your health care provider.

8. Is there any assistance in paying for my medical expenses related to this incident?

Contact Chevron for information regarding payment of medical expenses or claims. You can reach them at 510-242-2000 for general information or at 1-866-260-7881 for claim information.

Richmond Refinery Fire: 8 Health Questions Answered 9 August,2012Lisa Aliferis

  • I find it annoying to listen on the radio that Chevron is trying to figure out what caused the explosion at the Richmond plant. For years there has been public outcry for Chevron to update the facility. I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner and Chevron dam well knew they were taking risks everyday by not updating their plant. Many of the oil refineries we have in California need to be updated and they are not because the oil companies don’t want to pay the money to update them. Like they can’t afford it. Of course when you have a president like Bush who’s assets are in the oil companies, then of corse no regulations or forced up dates would ever be imposed on these companies. We need government action to review these refineries and give them a reasonable time frame to do the updates and if they don’t have the updates done by the time required then they should be fined double what it cost to do the update. Then maybe they would finally do it.
    The air quality in all the major cities in California is horrible. When I lived in Long Beach I started having breathing problems. I wiped black soot off my windowsill everyday. That is how bad the air there is. Then I lived in West Oakland for three years and really started having asthma problems. West oakland has the worst air quality in the whole Bay Area. The water treatment plant there needs to be updated and they finally shut down a factory there that was emitting high levels of heavy metals into the air. I few years ago I went to Australia and the first thing I noticed was as soon as I got off the plane how incredibly clean the air was. I just wanted to keep breathing in and smelling this clean air. It was heaven. Then I came back to the Bay Area and everywhere I went the air smelled like tar. I couldn’t breath. Then a year ago I moved back to San Jose where I grew up and the air quality here has gotten horrible too. It smells like either tar or sewage. Growing up here, I don’t ever remember the air being bad at all here. So it’s not just Chevron but obviously there is a huge problem with our air quality when it comes to updating and regulating all of the factories, water treatment plants, etc.. in California. I don’t want to hear excuses that any of these companies and facilities say they don’t have the money to make these updates. If our government doesn’t have enough money for anything, it is because they are allowing the elite wealthy to not pay in taxes what they should be paying and if these companies say they don’t have enough money it’s just because they are not willing to dip into their profits and lower the highest paid peoples’ income.
    Seriously it’s time that people take our government back and get rid of these tyrants that have been recklessly and irresponsibly ruining our environment, damaging our health and our lives. And for what? So they can have more money in their pocket.

  • Sunny Lee

    Post and send this to everyone to support our neighborhoods.
    Form your own class action lawsuit and file it on Chevron.


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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