A Chevron refinery near San Francisco, the largest on the West Coast and capable of producing 240,000 barrels of crude oil daily, caught fire earlier in the week, sending hundreds of residents to the hospital with respiratory problems.
Located in Richmond about 10 miles north of San Francisco, the fire was contained on Monday but the smoke billowed for days after the incident. Area residents received an automated phone call from Contra Costa County telling them to remain indoors, close windows and turn on air conditioning units until the smoke cleared.
Medical personnel in nearby San Pablo reported about 200 incoming patients complaining of shortness of breath although no cases were serious enough to be considered life-threatening. Daniela Rodriguez told the local paper that the smell coming from the burning refinery made her dizzy and light-headed.
County health officials are proceeding with caution and have four teams of inspector to test the air quality. The primary concern is that not only is the smoke itself toxic, but “in this smoke, there can also be all kinds of byproducts that can be toxic,” according to chief environmental and hazardous materials officer Randy Sawyer.
The Chevron company said it did not yet know the cause of the fire, and that only one employee received a minor injury in the incident. Chevron didn’t know if production would be slowed or stopped, which must certainly be a concern for them considering a similar incident in 2007 at the same location shut down the refinery for an entire quarter.