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Residents near Martinez refinery release told to avoid eating backyard-grown produce

MARTINEZ – Health officials in Contra Costa County urged residents living near the site of last year's refinery hazardous materials release not to eat produce grown in soil that may have been exposed until testing is complete.

"We are making this recommendation out of an abundance of caution," health officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli said, who issued a health order Tuesday.

The order impacts residents in Martinez and Pacheco who live near the Martinez Refining Company, where "spent catalyst" containing heavy metals was released from the facility on Thanksgiving Day and the following day.

At the time, Contra Costa Health said the refinery released more than 20 tons of metal-laden dust into the community and that they only learned about the release from media accounts two days after it began. 

Testing following the release showed elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium and zinc.

Tziveli said Tuesday that it is safe for residents to plant seeds in their yards and gardens, but urged them to wait for results of environmental testing to be safe consuming backyard-grown fruits and vegetables. Results are expected in the late spring or early summer.

Residents who are still concerned about their soil can also opt to grow produce in pots, planters or raised garden beds with fresh soil, health officials said.

"There is no immediate health threat to the community. That said, it's also always better to be safe than sorry," the health officer said.

Contra Costa Health has recently referred the case to the District Attorney's Office for consideration of legal action.

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