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Residents concerned after Richmond refinery spews black smoke into air during flaring incident

Communities still reeling after Richmond refinery spews black smoke during flaring incident
Communities still reeling after Richmond refinery spews black smoke during flaring incident 03:45

RICHMOND — Communities near Richmond are still reeling Tuesday after a flaring incident at the Chevron refinery spewed massive clouds of thick black smoke into the air.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District reports they received more than 100 complaints about air quality as the incident was going on Monday afternoon.

According to a statement from Chevron, "We have discontinued flaring and power has been fully restored to Chevron's Richmond operations. The safety of our team, our communities, our facilities and the environment is our highest priority and we continue to adjust our operations to bring processes safely and completely online. We are working with local authorities to investigate the power failure and avoid similar outages in the future."

"We just saw fire coming out of the stacks over there, and it just filled the whole area with smoke out here," said Jonathan Fong.

He lives in a house overlooking the almost 3,000 acre Chevron oil refinery in Richmond. He said in the three years he's lived there he has never seen anything like the dark plumes of smoke spewing out of the stacks.

"It's definitely a big deal. Carcinogens are no joke. You can get all kinds of health problems from it, so I got out of here," he said.

The Contra Costa Health Department deployed hazardous materials teams Monday afternoon and into the evening to monitor air quality until the flaring ended. Those teams reported there were no measurable health impacts.

Community advocates like Katt Ramos said incidents like these serve as a warning sign that the refineries need more oversight.

"This should not be normalized. Living near the refinery is definitely impacting us," said Ramos.

She is the program director at Communities for a Better Environment, a nonprofit group fighting for social and environmental justice.

She lives and works in Richmond and said she worries that people aren't getting the full picture of the health impacts of these refineries, and according to data from UCSF, the city of Richmond has double the rates of asthma compared to the rest of the state with about 25% of Richmond's population being diagnosed with asthma compared to 13% of the population in all of California.

"Our bodies are being destroyed; our homes are being destroyed. We can't even plant food in our yards without worrying about the impact Chevron is having on that," said Ramos.

According to data from the city, Chevron is the largest employer and the city's largest revenue generator with almost 30% of the city's revenue coming from the oil refinery.

Ramos said hat can't come at the expense of residents' health.

"If they want a future here, then they need to create the safeguards to have the community alongside them here," she said.

Chevron has 72 hours from the flaring incident to provide a more detailed report to the county health department about what exactly happened during the incident and what caused it. 

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