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HIGH LEVELS OF TOXIC POLLUTANTS FOUND IN LOS ANGELES AIR


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http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1999/02/26/NEWS5984.dtl www.sfgate.com Return to regular view Whistleblower at Tosco Kathleen Sullivan and Marsha Ginsburg OF THE EXAMINER STAFF Ray Delgado of The Examiner staff, Examiner correspondent Robert Selna and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Feb. 26, 1999 1999 San Francisco Examiner URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1999/02/26/NEWS5984.dtl Blast blamed on leak; worker says tower should have been shut down 2 weeks ago MARTINEZ - Tosco Corp., under fire for Tuesday's accident that killed four workers at its Avon refinery, released a preliminary report Friday pinning the cause on a pipe that had not been "completely drained and isolated" during routine maintenance, allowing a highly flammable chemical to ignite into a deadly fireball. But a 13-year Tosco employee who managed the fuel-distilling tower said he recommended two weeks earlier that the tower be completely shut down because a pinhole leak had been discovered. The five men burned in Tuesday's fireball had been repairing that leaky pipe. Tosco's report said flammable naphtha escaped through "cut openings" during routine maintenance and came into contact with hot metal on the distilling stack, igniting the blast. The company filed its five-page report, as required under county law within 72 hours of an accident at the refinery. The company emphasized that it is still investigating the accident and that the "root cause analysis" is not complete. The accident occurred Tuesday when a massive fireball engulfed workers replacing a section of pipe on a 133-foot-high crude oil processing tower. The report said the pipe had been taken out of service "based on inspection results." David Kory, a Tosco spokesman, confirmed earlier this week that there had been a naphtha leak on the unit last week, but said he wouldn't know until Tosco had completed its investigation whether the workers were trying to address the same problem when the accident occurred. Antony J. Creggett, the unit operator who runs the tower, said Friday that a pinhole leak was discovered two weeks ago and he recommended the tower be shut down while repairs were conducted. "We knew it needed to be shut down two weeks ago, but the idea to shut it down was shot down" by supervisors at Tosco, said Creggett, a 13-year company worker. "It could have been avoided. It should have been shut down before they tried to repair it." Eight workers were performing the maintenance, the Tosco report said, including five people working on tower platforms or scaffolding, and three people working at ground level. They were replacing a section of pipe. The report said 100 gallons of liquid naphtha were released into the environment. "While there were some visible emissions from the fire, there was no community impact," the report said. An ironworker who was burned over 60 percent of his body in the accident died Thursday. Raynold "Tom" Rodacker, 49, died at 5:40 p.m. at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, a spokeswoman said. Rodacker, a longtime member of the ironworkers union in Benicia, was employed by Bigge Crane & Rigging, a San Leandro contractor. His death came on the day that Contra Costa County's hazardous materials commission voted 6-3 to recommend the Tosco plant be shut down immediately. The recommendation will go to the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday. "We can't turn our backs on this," said commission member Paulette Lagana. "We can't shut our eyes or turn away and say, "Well, things will get better.' " Ultimatum to Tosco Tuesday's flash fire, the fourth fatal accident at the plant in the past 16 years, already has triggered outrage from county supervisors. In a telephone call Thursday, Supervisor Gayle Uilkema delivered an ultimatum to Dwight Wiggins, president of Tosco Refining Co., a division of Tosco Corp. "She told him in no uncertain terms that they either operate responsibly or they are going to get shut down," said Mike Eisenberg, Uilkema's chief of staff. "She is thoroughly disgusted with Tosco." Tosco spokeswoman Linda Saltzman confirmed that Wiggins, who arrived Wednesday from the company's Connecticut headquarters, had spoken with Uilkema. But Saltzman declined comment, saying she was not privy to their conversation. Creggett, the Tosco employee, appeared at a press conference Friday with Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez. Creggett said he would rather not have spoken publicly about the accident, but "people have died, so I had to come forward." Miller spoke Friday morning with Tosco officials about the accident. "I tried to impress upon the company that their track record is not enviable and raises questions," Miller said. 5th victim improving The fifth worker involved in the accident, Tosco employee Steve Duncan, 48, of Livermore, remained hospitalized Thursday night in critical but stable condition at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. A nursing supervisor said there has been some improvement in Duncan's condition. Duncan has second- and third-degree burns on his arms, face and neck, as well as fractures. The accident is the worst in the plant's history. In January 1997, a fire killed one man and injured 26 others. Tosco's parent company was fined $277,000 for the incident. On Thursday, five investigators from the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board arrived at the refinery, joining six other groups already trying to determine the cause of the accident. The accident also is being investigated by the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Contra Costa County Health Services Department, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, contractors Bigge Crane & Rigging and Interstate Scaffolding Inc. of Martinez, and by Tosco. Safety concerns among workers As employees rolled into and out of the Tosco plant Thursday, most were tight-lipped about the accident, and others had mixed responses about whether the factory was safe. None would give their name or occupation at the plant. One, a manager, said he considered the accident isolated, but added that with 13 incidents over the past 10 years, "you have to stand back, and it makes anyone wonder" about the plant's safety. Still another said, "The company should be just as concerned with our lives as the bottom line." Asked whether he felt the plant was an unsafe place to work, he said, "Put it this way, I'm sending out resumes." Two other longtime employees said they felt comfortable working at Tosco. "I've been here 20 years," said one employee. "Hopefully, I'll be here in another 20." 1999 San Francisco Examiner Page A 1

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