Contra Costa County calls for independent investigation of Martinez Refinery chemical release

Health officials in Contra Costa County on Wednesday notified Martinez Refinery Company that last month's hazardous materials release will be recommended for an independent investigation.

Contra Costa Health Services wants the county's Industrial Safety Ordinance to look into the matter. The release of a mysterious white powder concerned neighbors in the area over the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 24 and 25. 

An initial investigation by the health department found the incident was a "Major Chemical Accident or Release." Officials determined there were abnormal amounts of heavy metals involved in the release. This type of release gives it legal designation for further investigation, CCHS said. 

Health officials are looking into potential enforcement action, including a case referral to the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office. 

"Contra Costa County will not sweep this incident under the rug," said Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover, whose district includes Martinez. "This dangerous release of hazardous materials affects the health of our community, and the refinery's failure to notify in a timely way obstructed an emergency response that could have reduced harm. My office is working closely with CCH to fully investigate this incident as provided in the County's Industrial Safety Ordinance."

The health department said the refinery failed to report the release through the Community Warning System, or directly to the department itself, which are requirements. 

SEE ALSO: Powder found near Martinez refinery contains abnormal amounts of metal: officials

The health department said they learned of the release from media accounts two days after it began. The release contained elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium, and zinc. "Prolonged exposure to these metals can lead to health concerns," the health department said in their news release. 

A virtual town hall to update the public is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.