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NuStar to Work with Health Department on Examining Root Causes of Fire at its West County Facility


Tuesday, October 22, 2019


NuStar Energy will work with the Contra Costa's Hazardous Materials Program to conduct a root-cause analysis following the Oct. 15 fire at the company's West County facility. 

"We will be working with (NuStar), monitoring that process, making sure they have a good process in place," Randy Sawyer,  Hazardous Materials Chief for Contra Costa Health Services, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. "The fire investigation will determine the cause. We're asking them to go even deeper."

Sawyer and Chief Lewis Broschard of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District delivered an overview of their agencies' respective investigations at Tuesday's board meeting.

The fire burned two large tanks for several hours during the afternoon and evening of Oct. 15, forcing the closure of Interstate 80. Less than 6,000 barrels of denatured ethanol, a fuel additive, burned during the fire, along with an unknown quantity of diesel and jet fuel, according to the 72-hour incident report that NuStar was required to submit to HazMat. The facility has been closed since the fire. 

Realtime air-quality measurements done by Contra Costa's Hazardous Materials specialists during the fire showed that there were high levels of smoke particulate in the air in areas near the facility. But air samples collected by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District did not show unusually high levels of other toxic substances.

The county fire district is leading the investigation into the origin and cause of the fire. Broschard said his agency's investigators were expected to have access today to the area that burned.

HazMat, meanwhile will work with NuStar on the root-cause analysis, which explores underlying factors that contribute to industrial incidents as outlined in the county's Industrial Safety Ordinance.

The ordinance currently applies to the four oil refineries and two chemical plants operating in Contra Costa, but NuStar has informed HazMat that it would voluntarily participate in the process.

"While it's really important to understand the cause of an accident, it's just as important to understand the culture and systems in place that led to it," Board Chair John Gioia said.

"Obviously something went wrong. But there is always something deeper, which is what the root-cause analysis will find."

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Send feedback and story ideas to editor Will Harper at will.harper@cchealth.org