Martinez has lengthy been a refinery city. Generations have labored on the sprawling advanced on the east facet of the town that defines the skyline.
For greater than a century, to reside in Martinez, a city of 36,000 sitting beside the bay, has been to co-exist with the silver smoke stacks of heavy trade. The dangers associate with the enjoyable runs the oil refinery hosts and its sponsorship of the Chamber of Commerce.
However after the refinery dumped 20 tons of heavy-metal laden mud on surrounding neighborhoods in November, overlaying lawns and gardens with a high quality white silt, some residents suppose that relationship has shifted. Maybe for good.
“I feel it’s honest to say that there’s a new relationship, and we’re mainly having to reestablish that relationship,” mentioned Brianne Zorn, who was sworn in as mayor in December. “We want to ensure they’re not simply paying for our occasions however that they’re a associate in ensuring Martinez is a wholesome and protected place to reside.”
The shift in public notion began final November when ash from Martinez Refining Co., a subsidiary of unbiased petroleum big PBF Power, fell on the town’s neighborhoods the day after Thanksgiving. The corporate assured residents the mud was non-toxic, non-hazardous and “naturally occurring” spent-catalyst mud from the refining course of. It supplied free automotive washes.
Inside the week, the county well being division alerted residents, reporting the sand contained aluminum, barium and chromium — heavy metals linked to nausea, vomiting, respiratory points and extra.
But it wasn’t till March that the Contra Costa Well being Division issued an alert: Don’t eat out of your gardens till the soil is absolutely examined.
Lastly, originally of June, following months of stress and anguish amongst fearful residents, well being officers introduced they had been assured that the ash-laden soil in Martinez was protected.
The outcomes had been, inarguably, a welcome improvement for many who had been residing beneath a well being advisory since March. However not less than for some, the outcomes of the soil testing marked a brand new starting, quite than a conclusion.
In what might in the end outline the legacy of the spent-catalyst launch, a rising variety of civically engaged, activism-oriented residents, galvanized by the occasions, are utilizing this second to redefine the town’s relationship with the refinery subsequent door and push for a more healthy metropolis.
“I’m grateful the soil got here out protected, however that’s not the tip of the problem,” mentioned Jillian Elliot, a Martinez resident and member of Wholesome Martinez, a grassroots refinery accountability group that blossomed within the wake of the spent-catalyst launch. “I feel it’s the beginning of lots of people taking these considerations severely.”
Wholesome Martinez began as a gaggle of 5 pals who related on Fb within the aftermath of the spent-catalyst launch. On the time, they simply wished to make sense of what occurred and the way they need to reply. Within the months since their neighborhoods had been blanketed with the layer of white mud, the group has ballooned to roughly 100 folks. Some, however not all, have moved to the town not too long ago and are dissatisfied with the established order. They’ve began a web site. They ship a consultant to each metropolis oversight assembly.
Now the group is flexing its newfound organizing energy to push for stronger security requirements for the refinery. They’ve issued 5 calls for that embrace the set up of a moist gasoline scrubber that would scale back each day emissions from the power and reimbursement for the town and county bills associated to the spewed silt.
To Elliot and the members of Wholesome Martinez, the outcomes of the soil pattern really feel extra like a dodged bullet — not an assurance of security.
“Lets be actual. What occurred on Thanksgiving night time might occur once more at any time,” mentioned Heidi Taylor, one other member of Wholesome Martinez. “That’s the fact that we reside in each single day.”
If something, the group mentioned the spent-catalyst launch has made clear Martinez Refinery creates threat that will need to have oversight. They level to a number of flaring occasions and spills prior to now six months because the launch. Moreover, the refinery is the topic of an investigation involving the FBI and the EPA.
Town too is reassessing, together with the mayor, whose management has been largely outlined by the occasion. It’s engaged on creating its personal notification system for refinery accidents and releases, no matter whether or not an occasion meets county thresholds for notification, largely as a result of the corporate failed to right away disclose the spent-catalyst launch.
Martinez Refining Co., which has 700 full-time workers and a further 200 contractors, didn’t remark by press time. They’re nonetheless a significant trade and a big presence locally. However the days of peaceable co-existence might have come to an finish.
Elliot, who retired on account of unrelated well being considerations, moved to Martinez slightly over a yr in the past as a result of she thinks it’s a fantastic place to reside. There are different issues she would quite do than observe the regulatory trivia of an oil refinery. But when the state of affairs calls for it, she is going to.
“The message out of that is, we’re paying consideration. The whole lot they do, we’re paying consideration,” Elliot mentioned. “That is our city, we’re involved, and we’re not going away.”