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Black smoke billowed out of a flaring East Bay oil refinery after a unit went down on Tuesday, causing officials to issue a health advisory for people living in the area that lasted more than an hour.
“Steam is what powers the entire refinery,” Deutsche said Tuesday. “If steam is all of a sudden reduced, the oil can thicken up and build up pressure. It can be dangerous to the entire process.”
Equipment used to refine oil began to flare up and cause smoke as a result of losing the steam generation unit, Deutsche said.
A lack of steam threw the system out of whack and created black smoke, a result of burning hydrocarbons that would usually be processed in the refining cycle.
Officials with the health department and Bay Area Air Quality Management District tested the air and detected no harmful emissions were released into the atmosphere, Deutsche said.
A “level 2 incident” was called by health officials, meaning people with preexisting respiratory problems off-site from the plant could experience breathing problems from the smoke. A hazardous materials team was sent to the refinery to assess the health risk, Balladares said.
The warning, issued for Martinez, Pacheco, North Concord and Clyde, also stated t
hose in the area could experience eye, skin, nose, or throat irritation.
Officials lifted the advisory shortly before 2 p.m. and the steam generation unit was put “back on line,” Deutsche said.
Some units remain down, but the steam generation unit is operating. An investigation of the incident was ongoing, officials said.
“There were no injuries as a result of this event,” Deutsche said in a statement. “We do not expect any adverse health effects… Our main priority is to safely return the refinery to normal operations and to minimize the impact to the community and the environment.”
In August, Tesoro Corp. settled a $4 million lawsuit that claimed the company’s Pacheco refinery had illegally discharged byproducts in sewer and water-treatment facilities because workers did not remove contaminants that could evaporate and pollute the air.