Despite a thick cloud of smoke covering a good portion of western Contra Costa County from a fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond on Monday night, the air quality was minimally impacted, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The air district inspectors collected samples of the air and tested them in the district's lab, finding pollution levels well below the federal health standards, the air district said in a statement.
"Surface winds were light and heat pushed the smoke upwards where stronger winds helped disperse it," the statement said.
The Contra Costa County Health Services tests to track hydrogen sulfate and volatile organic compounds both came up negative, said a health services spokeswoman.
Air samples were taken by health services officials, but test results were not available as of 5 p.m., she said.
The three-alarm fire broke out at 4 Crude Unit at about 6:30 p.m. and was burning strong before it was contained just before 11 p.m.
Dispite the good news from officials, the emergency rooms of two East Bay Hospitals were packed today, as hundreds of people turned-up complaining of watery eyes, scratchy throats and trouble breathing. Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo and Kaiser’s Richmond Medical Center collectively saw more than 500 patients since Monday night’s fire.
“Right now, my chest hurts -- it hurts to breathe,” said Shanitta Jones of San Pablo who showed-up at the Doctors hospital to get checked out. “I’m breathing in, it hurts. I breathe out, it hurts worse.”
Miritha Moon of San Pablo woke-up with a headache and trouble breathing. Physicians at Doctors told her the symptoms would likely subside in 24 hours.
“I’m just hoping and praying everything will be ok for all of us,” Moon said. “I know it made a lot of people sick.”
Contra Costa Public Health officials said people with pre-existing conditions like asthma and emphysema were likely feeling even worse.
“We would not expect any long-term effects,” said Randy Sawyer, Hazmat director for Contra Costa County Public Health. “If they have something that’s still persisting today they should go see their personal physicians.”
In a statement, Chevron said:
"A claims process has been set up through Crawford and Company, and we intend to compensate our neighbors for medical and property expenses incurred as a result of the incident. We also will see to it that communities be reimbursed for the costs they face for emergency personnel who responded to last night's incident.
If you wish to file a claim, please call 866-260-7881. We will respond to these claims as promptly as possible."
Bay City news contributed to this report.