August 14, 2012 — Chevron Corp. has received 3,800 claims from residents of Richmond, California, who were injured after a massive refinery fire on August 6. The fire sent a plume of smoke and burning chemicals into the air for several hours. At least 4,000 people sought medical care for breathing problems, runny noses, and irritated eyes.
The Chevron refinery has been located in Richmond for more than 100 years, and there have been dozens of accidents at the facility. The company has opened a center where each claim will be handled face-to-face. According to Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie, “It’s all part of our attempts at community outreach.” Many members of the community have lined up outside the center for several hours to file their health claims.
Although thousands of people were injured, some lawyers in the area expect low payouts from Chevron. This is because most people were not seriously injured. Most people were treated and released from the hospital within a few hours.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is investigating whether the fire affected air quality in the region. The District said that they found dangerously high levels of the chemical acrolein, a chemical that is known to cause runny noses and irritated eyes. However, high levels of acrolein is not uncommon.
There will be five separate investigations. Federal and state investigators — including the team that investigated the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — will also be conducting tests to determine if it is safe to enter the refinery.
It is unclear exactly what caused the blaze, but inspectors want to investigate a pipe that has been blamed for the incident. Chevron had reportedly been considering replacing the pipe last year. While Chevron employees were inspecting the pipe, they removed the insulation. They barely escaped before the explosion. The 8-inch pipe leaked and the crude oil ignited, sending a plume of smoke that darkened the sky above Richmond. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Chevron examined the lines in October but determined they were good for another five years. The pipe is several decades old.
Federal and state investigators want to enter the refinery, remove the pipe, and test it to see how it might have failed. They suspect that corrosion was the cause of the leak. Federal investigators said that Chevron replaced a larger corroded pipe, but failed to replace the pipe that failed last week.
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