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Web Source Return to regular view Tosco urged to shut refinery Chuck Finnie and Michael Dougan OF THE EXAMINER STAFF Mackenzie Warren of The Examiner staff contributed to this report. Feb. 28, 1999 1999 San Francisco Examiner URL: Contra Costa board, top health official ask temporary closure during probe of fatal blast at plant MARTINEZ - Contra Costa County's Board of Supervisors and chief health official Saturday called on Tosco to voluntarily shut its Martinez refinery while investigations into last week's fatal explosion proceed. "My real concern is whether there is an ongoing danger at the plant to workers and to the community," said Dr. William Walker, the county's director of health services. Walker delivered his comments during a special meeting Saturday of the county Board of Supervisors. The board scheduled the session to hear from refinery workers and get a report on its legal options in the wake of the accident. The supervisors met in a closed session after the hearing. Afterward, they emerged to say they would send a letter to Tosco requesting the closure until the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board completes an audit of the refinery. The request asked Tosco to make a decision by Tuesday, when the supervisors next meet. A Tosco representative said the company would not respond until it hears directly from county officials. The firm sent no representatives to the meeting Saturday. "This is the first indication we've gotten of that specific of a request. We haven't received it yet from the county or the supervisors. Until then it would be inappropriate to discuss that," said Linda Saltzman, Tosco spokeswoman. On Tuesday, an explosion at a crude-oil processing tower at Tosco's Avon refinery in Martinez severely burned five maintenance workers, killing four. A fifth worker, Steve Duncan, 48, of Livermore, remained in critical condition at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley Saturday night with second- and third-degree burns on his face, neck and arms, and multiple fractures. The dead The accident occurred when naphtha, a highly flammable substance, leaked from a broken pipe onto the blazing surface of the tower. The ensuing fireball killed Raynold "Tom" Rodacker, 49, of San Leandro; Rollin Blue, 35, of Martinez; Ernie Pofahl, 48, and Ricardo Enriquez, 36, both of Antioch. Board of Supervisors President Joe Cinciamilla said the county could sue if Tosco refuses the temporary closure. "If they don't, the board is going to have to deal with our remaining options," Cinciamilla said. When asked if that meant going to court, he said, "That is a distinct possibility." Cinciamilla said the board also intended to ask Tosco to keep all of its 700 refinery employees and 120 contract workers on the payroll during any shutdown. "I'd hope they'd appreciate the reasonableness and fairness and justice of this request," said Supervisor Donna Gerber. "We're asking them to do something to avoid litigation," Gerber said. "The board has both moral and legal authority in these situations. We're not sure we have the legal evidence, yet. But we're choosing to exercise our moral authority," she said, adding: "We think there's compelling evidence (to get the facility shut down)." County Supervisor John Gioia agreed. "That facility does not meet the safety requirements of other refineries," he said. "We all feel it's time for Tosco to change, and change needs to happen immediately. Tosco's promises to change aren't credible any longer. It's now or never." Public testimony at the hearing, however, was divided on the issue, as workers and neighbors spoke about longstanding safety concerns, but also fretted about the economic consequence of a closure. Sharon Ruddell, whose husband was killed in a 1983 Tosco accident, said it was time to put the refinery out of business. "The long list of Tosco widows and bereft families is unacceptable and something must be done," Ruddell said. James Gotesky, who works in maintenance at another Tosco refinery, admonished county officials not to fail to protect the livelihood of the company's employees. "I believe the refinery should be shut down," Gotesky said, but added: "Full union wages should be paid for the time it will take to make good on what they have caused." Pam Aguilar, the Contra Costa County Labor Council president, said her organization has not made up its mind on the refinery's fate. "We are not prepared to say, at this point, that the plant should be closed," Aguilar said. "It should be a consideration if that is the only way to keep our members from dying." But, she added, "We are concerned that a plant closure could lead to an abandonment of the site by Tosco." Controversy over the refinery deepened Friday with indications that the company may have failed to follow standard safety rules when it sent a crew to replace the broken pipe on the processing tower. "It could have been avoided' A Tosco employee who operates the tower said Friday that he was rebuffed by supervisors when he recommended shutting down the 133-foot structure. "It could have been avoided," the employee, Antony Creggett, a 13-year Tosco employee, said of Tuesday's accident. "(The tower) should have been shut down before they tried to repair it." Creggett said the deadly chain of events began two weeks ago when the company discovered a pinhole leak in the tower pipe. Tosco has declined comment on Creggett's charges, but issued a prepared statement suggesting Creggett had the authority to act on his own. The statement said, "Every employee has the authority and the responsibility to shut down a job if it is unsafe to proceed, with no repercussions to their employment." However, Don Brown, a consultant at the advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment, said it takes special coordination and additional personnel to shut down a tower - a task that is beyond the capability of a single operator or a group of operators. Seven groups, including the federal Chemical Safety board and the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are investigating the accident. Until those investigations are complete, the county would have a tough time forcing Tosco to shut down the refinery, if it refuses to do it voluntarily, Vic Westman, the county counsel, warned the supervisors. Basically, Westman said, the county would have to convince a court that the refinery qualifies under state law as a danger to workers or the public and why. To get a judge to impose an injunction against Tosco "is a major burden," Westman said, adding: "To date, we have not concluded there are any violations of the (state) Health and Safety Code." 1999 San Francisco Examiner Page A 1

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