Contra Costa County Supervisors Eyeing Tank Farm Regulations After NuStar Fire

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Contra Costa County staff told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning that hazardous materials officials found out about fire at the NuStar Energy tank farm first from news agencies.

Hazmat officials were supposed to be notified by workers at NuStar Energy.

"They didn't do the call to us, because I think they were evacuating at the time," said Randy Sawyer, chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer for Contra Costa Health Services.

"Based on health and safety code they should have notified us at the same time as 911," Sawyer said.

"Your office reached out to them? They didn't reach out to you?" said District 1 Supervisor John Gioia.

"That's correct," Sawyer said.

There's also a special dispatch protocol for hazardous materials fires, according to Lewis Broschard, fire chief of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, but it was not invoked right away because this was initially reported as an explosion.

"It does not appear that a haz-mat fire response protocol was used, but rather a commercial structure fire protocol was used," Broschard said, adding that "hazmat was requested fairly early on by the incident commander, so there wasn't a significant delay in that."

If that notification had happened faster, however, county officials could have issued a community alert sooner, according to Sawyer.

At this point in the investigation county officials are looking into whether the fire suppression systems onsite, which had not been activated when fire crews arrived, were in compliance with the relevant regulations.

Gioia says there are a total of 16 tank farms in Contra Costa County like the NuStar Energy facility. They're not governed by the county's industrial safety ordinance, but he asks if maybe they should be.

According to a statement from Contra Costa Health Services, NuStar will be working with personnel from the health department's Hazardous Materials Program to determine the root cause of the fire.

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