Contra Costa County is looking for volunteers to serve on a committee to oversee an independent investigation and risk assessment of the Martinez Refining Company’s (MRC) release of heavy metals into the surrounding community in November.
The committee will advise the county Board of Supervisors and Contra Costa Health’s Hazardous Materials Program on hiring contractors to probe the cause of the release and, separately, the impact that it had on the community.
The county earlier this month officially asked District Attorney Diana Becton’s office to consider action against the refinery for not notifying the county after it released more than 20 tons of metal-laden dust into the community over Thanksgiving weekend.
The accidental release of “spent catalyst” started around 9:30 p.m. Nov. 24 and continued into the early hours of Nov. 25, showering the surrounding community in the dust-like substance.
Samples of the dust later showed elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium, and zinc, all of which could have caused respiratory problems in people breathing it.
County policy required MRC to alert the community via the county emergency system and to immediately notify the health department, neither of which happened. County health officials say they learned about the release via media reports a day and a half later.
Refinery officials have said they are cooperating with the investigation.
The new committee will review and direct the work as it proceeds and ultimately report to the board and the public.
The Ad Hoc Committee for the Industrial Safety Ordinance and Community Warning System, a subcommittee of the Board of Supervisors, directed the health department last Thursday to lead the community-involved investigation and risk assessment, parallel to the investigation MRC is legally required to conduct.
The nine-member oversight committee will be led by a staff member of the county’s hazardous materials program and include representatives from the city of Martinez, MRC, the labor organizations representing MRC workers, and five at-large members from Martinez, Pacheco, or other communities near the refinery.
To apply for an at-large seat on the committee, people should fill out the online form or send an email to the county health department including their name, address, and a brief statement about why they wish to participate, or call 925-655-3200 for assistance.
Community members who are 18 or older and who live near Martinez, Pacheco, and surrounding unincorporated areas will be considered. Committee members will be selected by Supervisor Federal Glover, in whose district the refinery operates. The deadline to apply is Jan. 27.