CA refinery Acknowledges Fuel Got Into Firefighting Water : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Another little story that probably means nothing. But this refinery has had many problems this year.

Tosco Acknowledges Fuel Got Into Firefighting Water

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Martinez -- Tosco confirmed in a report to the Contra Costa County Health Department yesterday that firefighting water contaminated with fuel caused a March 22 blaze that injured two workers at the company's Avon refinery.

The company found a small leak in a closed valve that is supposed to separate the firefighting water from water used to wash out fuel processing vessels. Four other valves were supposed to serve as backup devices to prevent contaminated water from flowing backward into the firefighting water. But three were stuck in the open position, and the fourth had a broken spring.

The firefighting water was sprayed underneath a welding job March 22 to quickly extinguish sparks that might ignite any stray vapors from refining units. But the water itself released a cloud of gas that burst into flames. When a worker tried to put out the blaze with the same water, the flames leaped higher and swept toward him and his hose, according to the Tosco report.

The worker suffered first-degree burns. The welder was also burned and broke his wrist jumping off a scaffold. The accident is under review by state workplace safety investigators.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tosco death tower facing 4 probes

Ray Delgado and Jim Herron Zamora OF THE EXAMINER STAFF Jane Kay of The Examiner staff contributed to this report. Feb. 24, 1999

Fireball, blast kill 3 workers, injure 2; 2nd fatality at site in two years

MARTINEZ - Four investigations have been launched to determine what caused a massive fireball that erupted within an oil-processing unit at the Tosco Avon refinery, killing two men and critically injuring three others.

Tosco officials remained tight-lipped about what had caused the accident at 12:18 p.m. Tuesday at the plant's 133-foot-high crude processing unit. The fireball engulfed five maintenance workers who were repairing a 6-inch pipe attached to the tower, severely burning all of them and sending them crashing through scaffolding that ran the length of the structure, officials said.

"We don't know exactly where they all were when this happened," said Noel Luiz, a paramedic supervisor for Contra Costa County, referring to the five maintenance workers. "It appeared that some of them fell a great distance, and all suffered very severe burns. . . . The situation was extremely life-threatening."

Tuesday's incident is just the latest in a string of accidents at the plant, which has the worst safety record of all refineries in the East Bay, according to the Contra Costa County watchdog group Communities for a Better Environment.

Perhaps the worst of those occurred in January 1997 when an explosion and fire at the facility killed one employee and injured 26 others. California safety regulators fined Tosco $277,750 and cited the company for 22 safety violations after the accident, at the time marking the highest penalty levied against an oil refinery in California.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Agency, Contra Costa County health officials and the federal Chemical Safety Investigation Board, along with Tosco, are investigating Tuesday's accident.

According to company officials and investigators, the tower where the eruption occurred takes crude oil and subjects it to intense heat as high at 750 degrees Fahrenheit to separate molecules that are processed as fuels such as butane, propane, gasoline and diesel.

Fire Department officials said the flames had erupted in a portion of the unit that typically processed naphtha gas, a highly flammable agent. The ignition did not produce a loud explosion, Tosco spokeswoman Linda Saltzman said, but rather a flash that erupted into flames.

The workers, three of whom are employed by contractors, were positioned about two-thirds of the way up the tower when the fuel ignited. Normal processing operations were going on at the time, Saltzman said, but she would not comment on what type of maintenance work the crew was doing.

The fire sent a dark-black cloud into the air above the unit, but did not release harmful chemicals, environmental health officials said. Tosco's firefighters brought the blaze under control within 20 minutes.

Rescue crews had to construct a platform to bring the injured men down to where paramedics waited. It took firefighters more than two hours to reach the men and decontaminate them with hoses before lowering them on stretchers.

"It was similar, in a sense, to a cliff rescue," Contra Costa Fire Capt. Dave George said. "These people are on this scaffolding, if you can think of little ledges . . . that very few people could get to. You can't just send a bunch of people up on there."

Saltzman declined to identify the victims or the companies they worked for, citing privacy concerns.

One man dead at scene

One man, whose name was not released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Three of the injured men were taken by helicopter - and one was taken by ambulance - to hospitals that have burn units.

Rollin Blue, 35, of Martinez died at 2:26 a.m. at UC-Davis Medical Center. He had suffered burns over 50 percent of his body.

Steve Duncan, a 47-year-old Livermore man, was in critical condition Wednesday morning at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. He had severe burns and two fractured legs, according to a nursing supervisor.

Two of the injured men were transported to Doctor's Hospital in San Pablo. An unidentified 48-year-old Antioch resident was being treated for burns to about 90 percent of his body. The other victim at Doctor's, identified by emergency officials as Tom Rodaker, 49, of Martinez, was being treated for burns over 60 percent of his body.

County needs prodding

Denny Larson, the Northern California Director for the watchdog group Communities for a Better Environment, said he hoped the incident would prod Contra Costa County officials to pursue stronger safety regulations at the refineries.

Partially in response to the 1997 explosion and fire at the plant, county officials passed the Industrial Safety Ordinance in December 1998, calling for stricter safety regulations at Tosco. But Larson's group sued the county because its members felt the ordinance did not go far enough in cracking down on the refinery.

The 1997 incident at Tosco was blamed by the Environmental Protection Agency on management mistakes, poor training and unreliable equipment.

A pipeline rupture caused by excessively high operating temperatures led to the explosion and fire, the EPA's report said. Michael Glanzman, 42, of Pittsburg, was killed, and 26 others were injured.

"We just sued over the Industrial Safety Ordinance that they passed because it wasn't tough enough," Larson said. "Maybe this will put a little muscle in it."

Strong ordinance needed

Communities for a Better Environment said: "Today's accident at Tosco points out exactly why we need a strong ordinance in Contra Costa County. These accidents keep occurring, and will keep occuring until the county has the ability to require these facilities to install advanced safety control equipment to prevent these accidents."

Saltzman said many of the regulations called for in the ordinance had not yet been implemented and mainly involved operational procedures, not maintenance issues that appeared to be at the center of Tuesday's accident.

She said current safety procedures required that Tosco employees shut down any job if they believe it is unsafe. She said company officials would try to determine not only what had happened Tuesday, but whether Tosco's safety rules had been followed.

"This tragedy will be thoroughly analyzed," Saltzman said. "We are constantly updating our safety procedures, and we will be looking at everything we do."

Residents of the surrounding neighborhood also criticized Tosco in light of Tuesday's accident, saying they were concerned about the company's safety and alert systems.

"What's upsetting is that, once again, the siren did not go off," said Art Duffy, of Martinez, who lives about 2 miles south of Tosco. "I don't know how many times there have been explosions, but the siren has never gone off."

-- Martin Thompson (, April 25, 2000


Very good post Martin! Thank you...I appreciate your reporting.

-- (, April 25, 2000.

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