Officials: Mistakes made in warning public of fire

Associated Press Modified: September 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm •  Published: September 10, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Mistakes were made by air quality officials in notifying the public about potentially dangerous pollution created by a huge fire at a Chevron Corp. refinery last month, regulators said Monday.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District held a public meeting in San Francisco to discuss its response and the myriad investigations into the Aug. 6 fire that started after a leak in an old pipe at the Richmond facility.

Though Chevron and Contra Costa County also did air monitoring during the fire, the district was responsible for testing samples and determining if federal and state pollution standards were violated. If so, it was responsible for notifying county officials, who alert the public.

The district initially said none of the monitors measured levels exceeding legal standards, and later recanted that assertion.

More than 15,000 people sought medical attention for breathing complaints and eye irritation, though officials said only three required hospitalization.

Regulators also told those who attended the meeting that they are working to improve pollution monitoring during emergencies. District executive officer Jack Broadbent said the initial, incorrect assertion that all air quality samples taken near the refinery fire were safe "clearly fell short."

"The public was suffering from this event," he said.

The company has not set a timetable for when the crude unit that was destroyed by the fire will restart operations. The site is currently the focus of investigations by state and federal agencies, so access is strictly controlled.

Gasoline prices in California rose sharply in the days after the unit was taken offline. Some analysts said the increase was due in part to the supply disruption caused at the state's third largest refinery.

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