A nonprofit consumer advocacy group called for the indefinite closure of in a letter released Monday that is addressed to the director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The demand came after a July 6 incident in which “superheated oil” leaked from one area of the refinery, prompting the evacuation of 70 employees, according to a press release from Consumer Watchdog, a California-based consumer advocacy group.
While Consumer Watchdog announced it was “appalled to learn of yet another accident” at the refinery, Evergreen Oil spokeswoman Deborah Mattos said the July 6 incident was handled appropriately and the refinery did not receive any odor complaints from the community after the leak.
At the time of the oil leak, a county hazardous materials team responded and determined the leak did not pose any health hazard, according to Alameda County Fire Department spokeswoman Aisha Knowles.
Evergreen Oil handles hazardous waste materials, including used motor oil, antifreeze and other toxic waste, according to the company's website.
This month’s leak came four months after firefighters responded to the refinery plant after . No injuries were reported in that incident.
Last year, one employee was occurred at the refinery. That two-alarm fire prompted the closure of the plant's re-refinery area, which consists of two trains. That portion of the plant had been under repair since the March 2011 fire and one of those trains reopened in late October 2011.
Mattos emphasized Monday that Evergreen Oil has complied with city and fire requirements and regulations since the March 2011 fire.
Still, Consumer Watchdog notes in its press release that Evergreen Oil had been cited numerous times. In the letter to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, it stated, “Your department has repeatedly cited Evergreen Oil for cracks and gaps in waste container storage and transfer areas, failing to track contaminated petroleum waste coming in and out of the facility, careless soil contamination, and omissions in its own inspection system.”
Consumer Watchdog advocate Liza Tucker added “We call on the DTSC to shut this refinery down indefinitely. Evergreen needs to know that sloppy safety procedures, and refusal to fix or replace shoddy infrastructure, is simply unacceptable.”
Mattos said the letter was unexpected because Evergreen has been working on making needed repairs.
During a meeting last Friday between Evergreen Oil and Newark city officials, city officials commended Evergreen’s plant manager Robert Gwantley for reporting the leak properly, said Mattos, who noted she attended the meeting.
“It’s disturbing that they would pick on this company. They do a very good job,” Mattos said. “I think we’re doing things appropriately and we’re meeting with fire and city officials on a regular basis. We’re adhering to all the procedures that need to be done, and we’re close to be up and running.”
City Manager John Becker said while he was not prepared to comment on the accusations made by Consumer Watchdog specifically, he said the “‘advocate’ that wrote the letter seems to utilize a certain level of hyperbole to try to make her point. She cites an unnamed ‘activist’ when commenting on Evergreen’s safety record.” (See the full letter in the PDF above.)
He also noted Evergreen Oil repaired the July 6 leak and has since restarted its operations.
Becker also noted the refinery is currently operating under a temporary permit, but Evergreen Oil’s staff has worked closely with Alameda County Fire Department and the city of Newark’s building department staff members in order to meet all requirements to obtain its operating permit.
Becker said Evergreen Oil has until August 19 to meet those requirements.
“From my perspective, any time there is any type of release or other safety incident, it is of great concern. My staff is working very diligently with Evergreen Oil to insure that all Building and Fire Code requirements are met,” Becker said.
Since its March 2011 fire, Evergreen has made steps to better communicate with the general public.
One newer feature is Evergreen’s Odor Complaint Hotline. For off-site odor complaints, residents can call 510-608-0180 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evergreen has also established the , a group that will meet quarterly and act as a liason between Newark residents and the oil refinery.