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The Valero refinery in Benicia tops the EPA's list of biggest emitters of toxic materials in Solano County. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

Local Business

Refinery has county’s highest toxic releases

By From page B7 | May 04, 2014

FAIRFIELD — Valero in 2012 continued to have by far the highest amount of toxic chemical releases among Solano County industries and businesses, accounting for 80 percent of the total amount.

But the Benicia refinery has dramatically cut its releases over the past decade.

That information comes from the recently released Toxic Release Inventory Report by the Environmental Protection Agency. The stated goal is to help residents understand what chemicals are used by industries in their neighborhoods.

The Environmental Protection Agency cautions that the data alone are insufficient to determine exposure or calculate potential risks to human health and the environment.

Solano County has 17 industries and businesses that must submit the information to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Valero released 665,285 pounds of chemicals in 2012, 80 percent of the total releases in Solano County. That ranked second among the Bay Area’s five refineries, behind the Phillips 66 refinery in Contra Costa County.

The refinery released 183,352 pounds of chemicals into the air and 440,148 into the water. Chemicals included ammonia, sulfuric acid, carbonyl sulfide, benzene and tetrachloroethylene.

The biggest toxic release in 2012 was 436,047 pounds of nitrate compounds. Nitrates are found in such things as fertilizers.

Chris Howe of Valero said the nitrate compounds are part of the wastewater that Valero releases into the Carquinez Strait.

“Every aspect of that discharge is permitted by the Regional Water Quality Control Board,” he said.

Donald Cuffel of Valero said the region’s wastewater treatment plants also put nitrate compounds into waterways, though they are not required to make reports for the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic inventory. Dilution and tidal action in the Carquinez Strait prevents the nitrates from causing such problems as algae blooms, he said.

The refinery released 183,352 pounds of toxic materials into the air. Some came from the main stack. Other releases are “fugitive emissions” that seep out of the hundreds of thousands of valves and flanges at the refinery. The refinery must meet emission standards set by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Valero in 2011 installed a flue gas scrubber at a cost of $700 million to reduce air emissions.

Overall toxic releases at the plant have fallen. The inventory report for 2004 showed Valero releasing more than 1 million pounds of toxic materials into the air, land and water. The 2012 total of 623,500 pounds marks a 43 percent reduction.

Sometimes, something goes wrong. Valero recently agreed to pay a $183,000 penalty to settle air quality violations, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

This stems from a December 2010 incident involving a problem with Valero’s fluid catalytic cracking unit. A valve failure took place at the same time that equipment controlling particulate emissions was working at reduced efficiency. The unit converts heavy gas oils into gasoline and other lighter compounds, according to the district.

As a result, Valero’s main stack periodically violated particulate standards over 10 days, with other equipment violating carbon monoxide and sulfur standards, the district said.

Cuffel said Valero must report any violations and that air district officials are at the plant every week.

Valero last year proposed to bring crude oil to the refinery by train. That has sparked debate in Benicia about possible spills and worse air quality if Valero uses dirtier crude oils. A draft environmental impact report is to be released June 10 by the city.

The next highest toxic releases in the county came from the Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp. located in Fairfield’s Tolenas Industrial Park. It released 110,105 pounds of chemicals to the air, or 14 percent of the total county releases. The chemicals were n-butyl alcohol glycol ethers and formaldehyde, according to Environmental Protection Agency.

The remaining 15 Solano County businesses and industries each released less than 1 percent of the total 2012 releases in the county. They are Anheuser-Busch, Cemex Construction Materials Pacific LLC, Clorox Manufacturing Co., Travis Air Force Base, Nexeo Solutions LLC and Universal Propulsion Co. and Super Store Industries in Fairfield; Court Galvanizing Inc. and Alza Corp. in Vacaville; Basalite, Insulfoam and Inx Digital Ink Co. in Dixon; Timet in Vallejo; and WR Meadows of Northern California in Benicia.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

Discussion | 3 comments

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  • archieMay 04, 2014 - 7:26 am

    I don't know,,,,,,,,,, I had a rare craving for taco bell yesterday so I may have the highest amount of toxic releases at least for today.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich GiddensMay 04, 2014 - 12:26 pm

    Shipping crude by train instead of by pipeline is a giant step barackwards.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • RalphMay 04, 2014 - 10:34 pm


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