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Poor Community Still Sickened by the Oil Industry (Chevron Refinery Fire)

I had a fantastic Sunday. My second grandchild was born in the morning at Marin General Hospital. He is a sweet little tyke who coos, eats, sleeps, pees and poos. I can already tell he is a genius.

In the evening of my grandson’s first day on the planet, the people of Richmond, CA were wondering how long they had left on this whirling orb. Richmond is just across the bay from Marin County and the Chevron refinery fire was blazing. You can get to the refinery from the hospital where little Lorenzo was born in about fifteen minutes. Richmond, California is quite the contrast to Marin County. Richmond is one of the poorest towns in the Bay Area. Marin County is one of the richest counties in the country.

As I was researching articles to find more facts about the population of Richmond, I came across this article in Scientific American, Pollution, Poverty and People of Color: Living with Industry. It was published on June 4th of this year. Quite timely.

For 100 years, people, mostly blacks, have lived next door to the booming Chevron Richmond Refinery built by Standard Oil, a plant so huge it can process 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Hundreds of tanks holding millions of barrels of raw crude dot 2,900 acres of property on a hilly peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Five thousand miles of pipeline there move gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and other chemical products.


Decades of toxic emissions from industries — as well as lung-penetrating diesel particles spewed by truck routes and rail lines running next door to neighborhoods — may be taking a toll on residents’ health. The people of Richmond, particularly African Americans, are at significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease and strokes and more likely to go to hospitals for asthma than other county residents. Health experts say their environment likely is playing a major role.

While most coastal cities breathe ocean breezes mixed with traffic exhaust, people in north and central Richmond are exposed to a greater array of contaminants, many of them at higher concentrations. Included are benzene, mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and neurological effects. People can’t escape the fumes indoors, either. One study showed that some of the industrial pollutants are inside Richmond homes.

The description above is how these people are affected on a daily basis. On Monday, the refinery spewed out heavier toxins and deadly smoke. Lucky for Chevron the effects probably won’t show up for years to come.

During WWII, a community of black people showed up in the Bay Area to work at the shipyards. They were forced to live in segregated Richmond. They had no choice. They stayed due to a lack of education and decent paying jobs and because that was now their home. They became the involuntary canaries in the coal mine for the rest of the Bay Area. This is classic environmental racism.

I wonder if the powerful have any notion about their own vulnerabilities to the horrors they have created for the sake of four thousand square foot homes and private schools. Marin County is only a waft away from the Chevron refinery in Richmond. Do they think their own children won’t be affected? Do they think an earthquake will only dump the oil on the side of the bay were the dark people live?

And look for Chevron to say that the reason for the fire was because they had not been allowed to go forward with plans for a new, updated refinery. This new plan would bring in a much more toxic and thick oil and create even worse conditions for the residents of Richmond, and the rest of California. The section that burned on Monday was not to be part of these renovations but Chevron will try to game the system and insist it is time to build whatever they say is necessary.

Yesterday, gas prices had already gone up by thirty cents a gallon. When gas goes up, so does food. That means that the poor of Richmond will eat less.

I wonder how life in the Gulf of Mexico is doing about now.

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