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Toxic samples collected from release at Martinez refinery

Martinez oil refinery
Joe Futrelle
Flickr / Creative Commons
Martinez oil refinery

TRC, a Concord-based environmental consulting firm, is collecting samples from 14 locations in the central and western parts of the county to see if they contain elevated levels of certain harmful metals, including aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium and zinc.

The samples are coming from areas in and around Martinez, including the Alhambra Valley and Franklin Canyon areas, as well as El Sobrante, Hercules and, in Solano County, Benicia -- all of which were exposed to a 20- to 24-ton plume of spent catalyst dust during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nicole Heath, director of Hazardous Materials Programs for Contra Costa Health Services, said during a media briefing Thursday, "The samples will be collected and sent to a lab where they will be analyzed for metals that could have been associated with the release of spent catalyst and have potential to pose health effects."

Despite the fact that the noxious plume was released almost six months ago, a TRC official said that shouldn't hamper the collection and analysis process, which captures the top six inches of soil for testing.

If the tests reveal potentially toxic levels of contaminants in the soil, TRC could go back and collect samples from additional locations.

The testing is part of the county's independent investigation into the spent catalyst release, which is being led by the Martinez Refining Company Oversight Committee.

At the end of the investigation, the committee will decide what steps the refinery should take to make sure nothing similar happens again.

Sunni M. Khalid is a veteran of more than 40 years in journalism, having worked in print, radio, television, and web journalism.