A Contra Costa County official has clarified comments he made during a Board of Supervisors meeting about whether workers at the NuStar Energy tank farm in Crockett called county hazardous materials officials immediately after a fire erupted at the farm this month.
Randy Sawyer, chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer for Contra Costa Health Services, now says NuStar employees called his office at 2:36 p.m. on Oct. 15 after the fire broke out about 1:50 p.m. Sawyer said his office called the NuStar facility in Pittsburg in the moments after the fire was first reported after nobody answered at the location of the fire.
“They tried to get information from the Selby facility (where the fire broke out) and were unable to get a hold of anyone,” Sawyer said. “Shore Terminals, which is the NuStar facility name at Selby, did call us around 2:36 p.m. only after we were unsuccessful in getting a hold of them through their Pittsburg facility,” he said.
The clarification comes after Sawyer told the Board of Supervisors that his office wasn’t immediately notified, but also told supervisors that workers at the farm did not call because they may have been evacuating at the time.
“Based on health and safety code they should have notified us at the same time as 911,” Sawyer said.
County staff also told the Board of Supervisors that hazardous materials officials found out about fire at the tank farm first from news agencies.
There is also a special dispatch protocol for hazardous materials fires, according to Lewis Broschard, fire chief of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, but it was not invoked right away because this was initially reported as an explosion.
“It does not appear that a haz-mat fire response protocol was used, but rather a commercial structure fire protocol was used,” Broschard said, adding that “hazmat was requested fairly early on by the incident commander, so there wasn’t a significant delay in that.”
If that notification had happened faster, however, county officials could have issued a community alert sooner, according to Sawyer.
At this point in the investigation county officials are looking into whether the fire suppression systems onsite, which had not been activated when fire crews arrived, were in compliance with the relevant regulations.
Supervisor John Gioia said there are a total of 16 tank farms in Contra Costa County like the NuStar Energy facility. They are not governed by the county’s industrial safety ordinance, but he asked if maybe they should be.
According to a statement from Contra Costa Health Services, NuStar will be working with personnel from the health department’s Hazardous Materials Program to determine the root cause of the fire.
Shore Terminals pleaded guilty in 2009 to four counts of making false statements in connection with releasing organic compounds into the air in violation of a permit the company secured, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Shore Terminals on July 14, 2009, was ordered to pay a $1.75 million criminal fine and was placed on two years probation.