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

A Martinez refinery released a powdery substance that contained elevated levels of heavy metals on Nov. 24, 2022, county health officials said.

A powdery substance discovered in Martinez on Thanksgiving night and early Friday morning contained elevated amounts of heavy metals, according to health officials.

The white substance was released by the Martinez Refinery Company, which did not notify county health and emergency officials as required by law, the Contra Costa Health department said Wednesday in a statement. 

"Martinez residents need an immediate response when there is a release at the refinery," said Deputy Health Director Matt Kaufmann. "MRC’s failure to follow notification procedure cost us critical time we could have used to warn the public and reduce health risks in the community. It’s unacceptable."

"Higher than normal background levels of" aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium, and zinc were found in samples, the county health department said.

The refinery initially referred to it as "spent catalyst" and said their own testing determined it to be a "nontoxic mixture."

The refinery said it is looking into why the proper authorities were not notified until Saturday after community members and residents filed complaints.

Authorities with Contra Costa Health said they believe there is no active threat to the community.

But officials said long exposure to high, concentrated amounts of these metals can cause serious health problems

Health officials urge those who come across the substance to not touch nor breathe it in. 

MRC is providing free car washes to those whose vehicles were impacted by the white dust at Autotopia on Alhambra Boulevard.