Mysterious white powder found in neighborhoods near Martinez Refinery

Contra Costa County Health officials are working to determine the source of a white powdery substance, found in neighborhoods near the Martinez Refining Company on Pacheco Boulevard Friday morning.

"It was on my car, it was on my house, in my boat, and in my gazebo. Everywhere," said Martinez resident Craig Crume.

Another resident said it reminded him of ash from a wildfire blanketing everything in sight. 

"It was some hard, gritty, fine material." said resident Chris Rodriguez. 

Contra Costa County Health Services said there has been flaring at the refinery in recent days due to a mechanical malfunction.

Neighbors are worried this substance could be dangerous.

"For me it’s the fact it’s the really hard fine particulate dust that could get in our lungs. We have animals."

A statement posted on the Martinez Refining Company Facebook page says: "Martinez Refining Company representatives took samples of the material to a lab for testing.  Although we are still waiting to get the results back from the lab, based on input from the community and refinery personnel, we believe the substance is likely catalyst dust used in the refining process. We aim to be a good, respectful neighbor, and we apologize for any inconvenience this release may have caused.

Catalyst dust is primarily alumina silicate, clay, and other minerals mined from the earth This is also known as "spent," or used catalyst, which has been incinerated at high temperatures to remove impurities so the catalyst can be reused."


Officials from the county health department also collected samples for testing and are working with the air district to determine the source.

The refinery has also made arrangements for residents to get a free car wash at Autotopia on Alhambra Boulevard. Health officials say they will provide an update once they learn more about the substance.