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Martinez refinery spews coke dust over nearby areas

Contra Costa County buildings in downtown Martinez, Calif., and the Shell refinery
Ray Saint Germain
Bay City News
Contra Costa County buildings in downtown Martinez, Calif., and the Shell refinery

A petroleum refining byproduct known as coke dust – which looks like soot – coated outdoor surfaces on Tuesday morning after the material was released into the air by the Martinez Refining Company.

The release of the material lasted approximately one minute – enough time for it to coat the ground, parked cars, and other surfaces in nearby neighborhoods.

Contra Costa Health – CCH – is looking into what materials were released on Tuesday, and expects to have results by the end of the week. For now, they have recommended that residents clean outdoor surfaces with soapy water and avoid close contact with the dust, or inhaling it. The CCH hazardous materials team is working to assess potential health impacts.

Last November, failures in the refinery’s pollution control systems sent a 20- to 24-ton cloud of dust, containing heavy metals, over the city. CCH was not alerted and found out about the November release from media reports. This time, CCH was alerted of the release roughly two hours after it occurred.

Tuesday, CCH requested a 72-hour report about the incident from Martinez Refining Company. It will be posted to cchealth.org.

Laura Isaza is an audio journalist primarily covering climate and the environment. Born and raised in the Seattle area, she came to the Bay to attend UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. On her off time, you'll most likely find her skiing up and down mountains or attempting to climb rocks.