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Mysterious white ash coats California neighborhoods near refinery; health dept. investigating

By Leslie Brinkley

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    MARTINEZ, California (KGO) — A flare-up over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at an East Bay refinery sent thick white ash raining down on nearby neighborhoods. On Monday, that refinery is offering free car washes to those affected by the fallout.

While many Martinez residents were happy to get a free car wash, there was still a lot of concern about the mysterious white ash that fell from the sky.

“On Thanksgiving Day, there was a flaring event at the Martinez refinery. The air district responded to seven complaints from the public,” Kristine Roselius with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District consulted with officials from Martinez Refining Company on Pacheco Blvd. and launched a formal investigation as the ash fell on people’s yards and cars.

“It was like a white color, a heavy dust and it was really thick especially on the windows,” Martinez resident Vicky Conway said.

“Some sort of ash – and it was just coating your car? I went home and tried to get it off and it wouldn’t come off with water,” Martinez resident Steve Ranse said.

Martinez Refining Company says it should wash off with water.

They claim it’s catalyst dust, which is composed of alumina silicate, clay and other minerals. The company claims they are naturally occurring materials considered non-toxic and non-hazardous, and pose no health risks.

Contra Costa Health Services said they are unsure of health impacts so far, but ask anyone with respiratory issues as a result of the dust to contact their doctor.

“We have the guy from the oil refinery coming and he made a big purchase and bought quite a few car washes to take care of the community,” Rachell Julien with Autopia Car Wash said.

But Conway asked, “What about my roof? What about my deck? What are you guys going to do about it?”

Martinez Refining Company is asking people who have trouble removing the dust with water to reach out to them through email at MRC.CommunityRelations@pbfenergy.com. The Contra Costa Health Services hazmat team took samples over the weekend and expect to have a lab analysis of what was in the dust by Wednesday.

“While we haven’t issued any violations yet, we do anticipate there will be violations issued once our investigation is complete,” Roselius said.

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