Published on Newark Patch March 29, 2011
UPDATE: While the investigation into Tuesday morning’s oil refinery fire gets under way, city officials don’t yet know whether the incident is related to a recent outbreak of odor emissions that have prompted at least 20 complaints from the public.
City manager John Becker said the Evergreen Oil Refinery Plant, where a fire broke out last May, has been cited for 10 leaks and odor spills in recent months, resulting in about $4,000 in fines.
Becker was taken on a tour of the site, where he saw the charred remains of the fire that sent one employee to the hospital around 5:30 a.m. He said he was told the fire is unrelated to the May blaze.
“We certainly are concerned about it,” Becker said to media gathered at the plant.
Plant Manager Bob Gwaltney said that the fire started in the re-refinery plant after hydrocarbon was released from a tank during a routine procedure involving a heat exchange device.
Alameda County fire spokeswoman Aisha Knowles said the release of hydrocarbon was caused by an equipment failure.
Gwaltney said that one plant worker suffered an arm injury. The employee was taken to a hospital for treatment.
He said the chemical has been contained in the area, and there is no danger to the public.
“It is safe and stable,” Gwaltney said, adding that containing the spilled hydrochloric acid is expected to take a couple of hours.
An emergency team from Evergreen and Alameda County Fire’s hazardous materials team are supervising the clean up and will be investigating. A CalOsha investigator is also at the scene.
According to Gwaltney, there were 20 people inside at the time. The incident occurred during a shift change.
The plant manager said that the flames were visible from the street. Several streets in the area that were closed for the fire clean-up are now open.
Witness Kyle Fisher said that he saw a ball of fire at the refinery as he was driving home from work at another company.
A police officer said he saw the blaze from Mowry Avenue and said it looked as big as a football field.
Staff members at on Smith Avenue and on Cedar Boulevard said they contacted emergency officials and were told that the fire and smoke wouldn’t pose a hazard, so classes are being held as usual.
Evergreen collects and recycles waste oil, antifreeze and other toxic materials, according to its website, which says it’s one of the largest oil collectors in the state and the only re-refining operation in the Western U.S.
A strong smell of gas was present as of 8:30 a.m., but neighbor Lori Lowe, who said she’s been dealing with the odor problems for 20 years, described today’s smell as comparatively minor.
“Six to eight hours after smelling the strong odor I’ll get a headache, and one time I did go to the emergency room,” Lowe said.
Officials from two other companies in the area, Oak Harbor Freight Lines and BASF Chemical, said they shut down when the fire broke out.
Oak Harbor evacuated its employees around 5:45 a.m. BASF shut down its operations for about 10 minutes.