August 14, 2012 — Health claims are pouring in from injured residents of Richmond, California. On August 6, a Chevron gasoline refinery caught on fire and exploded, sending a massive plume of black smoke into the sky. Fortunately, there were no deaths or serious injuries. However, the city was blanketed in black smoke for several hours, and more than 4,000 residents sought emergency medical assistance for breathing problems, runny noses, and irritated eyes.
Chevron has established a claims center to handle each claim face-to-face. Melissa Ritchie, Chevron spokeswoman, said, “It’s all part of our attempts at community outreach.” Hundreds of residents have spent hours waiting in line to file their claim with the company.
Local lawyers speculate that the payout will be small, because most people had only minor injuries. Those who sought hospital treatment were released within a few hours.
The Chevron refinery has been located in Richmond for more than 100 years, and many residents of the city are employed at the facility. There have been dozens of incidents over the years.
State and federal investigators want to know how the fire started and whether Chevron was negligent in failing to replace a defective pipe, which has been blamed for the blaze. They are currently running tests on the facility’s structural and environmental safety to determine if it is safe for people to go inside and remove the pipe.
It is unclear exactly how the blaze occurred, but it seems to have started when Chevron employees were removing insulation around a corroded pipe. The employees were enveloped in a cloud of vapor and fortunately ran away — they barely escaped with their lives. The 8-inch pipe leaked crude oil, which ignited, and caused a massive cloud of smoke above the city.
Chevron was in the process of investigating and replacing the pipes due to corrosion. The pipes are several decades old. A larger pipe connected to one that failed was removed last year due to corrosion. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Chevron inspected the defective pipe last year, in October, but determined that it would last for another five years.
Federal and state investigators want to enter the refinery, remove the pipe, and test it to determine whether excess corrosion might have contributed to the leak.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is also investigating how much toxic chemicals were released into the air. They have already detected unacceptably high levels of acrolein, a chemical that causes runny noses and itchy eyes, but the air in this region is commonly contaminated with acrolein.
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