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Investigation Shows Valero Benicia Refinery Released Toxic Chemicals for Years

BENICIA (KPIX) -- At a community workshop Thursday, Benicia residents learned more about excessive levels of hazardous chemicals coming from the Valero Benicia refinery.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District discovered the plant has been emitting those chemicals for more the 15 years. BAAQMD discovered the problems and started investigating in 2018.

Workshop attendees questioned why they weren't notified about the emissions until last month.

An investigation by BAAQMD revealed emissions at the Valero refinery were, on average, hundreds of times higher than allowed by law. Pollutants included benzene, which causes an elevated risk of cancer and chronic health issues.

Many Benicia residents were furious nothing had been done sooner.

"When accidents happen in Benicia, we are never told about it in a timely matter where we can protect ourselves. That doesn't work for those living next to the refinery that wake up to black powder on all of their cars. Kids are going to school and pets are out there breathing this black stuff that's accumulating everywhere," Pat Toth Smith said.

"For the community, the monitoring systems were supposed to give us a sense that we can trust," Marilyn Bardet added.

Damian Breen with BAAQMD says the reason the district wasn't able alert Benicia residents earlier was to protect the integrity of the investigation and ensure that Valero is held accountable.

Valero provided a statement:

"The Valero Benicia Refinery discovered its hydrogen unit vent had trace contaminants. Valero took immediate steps to address the issue and has been working cooperatively with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District."

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