Martinez residents sue refinery after a year of accidents shakes community

Plantiffs say the company is “not the good corporate citizens they claim”

The Martinez Refining Company, which is already under investigation following a series of industrial accidents, is now being sued by two Martinez residents in a proposed class action lawsuit demanding that the company cease operations until it can prove it can do so safely.

According to the lawsuit, the beleaguered refinery, which has been responsible for numerous chemical releases into the community over the past year, has become a public nuisance, causing severe harm to Martinez residents.

In addition to the refinery’s closure, the lead plaintiffs, Alena Cruz and Shannon Payne, are seeking an environmental monitoring regime and public acknowledgement of the facility’s mismanagement. Furthermore, the lawsuit seeks the establishment of an independent oversight board to evaluate the refinery, determine compensation for damages, and compel the Martinez Refining Company to pay residents’ medical expenses.

“We want to make sure that people in this community receive more than the refinery coming to the city council and saying ‘we have to do better,'” said Blair Kittle, the case’s lead attorney.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of investigations and potential lawsuits involving the refinery. Just a few weeks ago, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office announced a “joint civil action” against the refinery with several other local agencies, which could be a precursor to a lawsuit. The EPA and the FBI are still looking into the refinery’s spent catalyst release on Thanksgiving last year.

Martinez Refining Company’s spokesperson stated that they do not comment on pending litigation. During a presentation to the Martinez city council in October, the refinery’s manager, Daniel Ingram, acknowledged that the refinery’s license was contingent on their ability to operate in a “safe and responsible manner.”

Because the lawsuit has been presented as a proposed class action, the two lead plaintiffs may eventually come to represent the 40,000 people who may have been affected by the refinery’s releases over the last year.

Last Thanksgiving night, residents awoke to find a layer of fine white silt on their cars, garbage cans, and window sills. The Martinez Refining Company, whose sprawling campus defines the city’s east side, stated that the release was “non-toxic,” “non-hazardous,” and “naturally occurring” spent catalyst dust from the refining process.

The County Health Department only informed residents a few days later that the sand contained hazardous metals such as aluminum, chromium, and barium. There have been several other releases from the refinery in the past year, but none as severe or far-reaching as the November incident.

Cruz described his fear of seeing flames rising from the facility on a regular basis in the suit. Many of the plants in her garden died mysteriously after the spent catalyst release, she claimed. Payne claimed that the refinery did nothing more than offer her a few hundred dollars to replace the soil in her garden.

“They never say what the issues are or what they are doing to fix them.” “We are concerned about what this dust may do to our children and their health,” Cruz said in a statement.

The lawsuit’s central goal is to dispel the notion that the Martinez Refinery is a good neighbor who has simply made a few mistakes. The complaint is blunt, describing the Martinez Refinery as a “inevitable disaster” and “not the good corporate citizens they claim.” They must now pay for their mistakes, according to the lawsuit.

“There are a lot of questions,” said Kittle. “A lawsuit is one mechanism we can use to get the answers.”

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