The precise cause of the fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond remains unclear, but two weeks after the blaze a few details have emerged. What questions do you still have about the August 6 fire?
What was in the smoke?: As black smoke poured out of the refinery and drifted across Contra Costa County on the night of August 6, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District was collecting air samples and testing for unsafe levels of toxins. The morning after the fire, the BAAQMD reported that the pollutants from the fire were not a significant health risk. Two days later, the BAAQMD revised its findings and said that potentially dangerous amounts of a toxic compound called arcolein were found in one air sample.
Will Chevron pay?: The BAAQMD findings will no doubt factor in the lawsuit that was filed last week accusing Chevron of “gross negligence.” Oakland attorney John Burris joined forces with two San Francisco lawyers and sued Chevron Wednesday on behalf on nine Richmond residents. While the lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages, thousands of people have already filed claims for modest sums. A Chevron spokesman told the Associated Press that the company will pay all reasonable expenses.
Will I pay?: The Richmond refinery produces about 15 percent of the gas pumped in California, and even before the fire was out, commenters were predicting that pump prices would climb. Only a few days after the fire, gas prices in most of the Bay Area had passed the $4 mark.
What caused the fire?: Investigators are still puzzling over the exact cause of the fire. In November, Chevron workers replaced pipes near the heart of the accident, but opted to keep the 8-inch pipe that was leaking before the fire started. Video shows a vapor cloud rising over the refinery before it caught fire. It’s possible that a fire truck at the scene might have sparked the initial blaze from which a dozen workers narrowly escaped.
Who is investigating the cause of the fire?: In addition to Chevron's own people, the United States Chemical Safety Board, Cal/OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the BAAQMD are all probing the root of the fire. It may be too many egos on the scene. Just as FBI agents and local cops clash in the movies, Cal/OSHA's lead investigator accused the feds of "grandstanding" on his Facebook page last week.
Did the community alert system work?: Contra Costa County officials allowed that the system designed to warn residents of an emergency did not work very well. It took the to call nearly 19,000 numbers.
What questions do you still have about the refinery fire? Let us know in the comments.