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Timidity and Fragmented Oversight of Evergreen Oil Plant Hamper Enforcement, Endanger Community, Says Group

Shut the Refinery Down

New information obtained from emergency responders shows that a July 6th high-temperature leak at the Evergreen Oil re-refining plant in Newark, California involved a hazardous industrial chemical, not just recycled motor oil, as initially reported. Consumer Watchdog called on the chief regulator of the facility to shut the plant down. In a letter sent Tuesday to Debbie Raphael, Director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the consumer organization asked her to convene fragmented regulatory agencies and respond strongly to the latest in a long series of safety violations and accidents at the plant in Newark, CA.

According to Consumer Watchdog, regulators are unclear about who is the lead regulator overseeing the facility, with DTSC’s own enforcers acknowledging they are uncertain of the department’s authority over the whole plant, which processes used motor oil. They were also not aware of what actions other agencies might be taking.

“The DTSC, which should be the leader in any event involving this serial safety violator, seems almost to be looking for reasons not to get involved,” said Consumer Watchdog advocate Liza Tucker. “This is an opportunity for the new director to show strong leadership and creativity in a department that appears to have faltered for years.”

The letter sent Tuesday said in part:

“Such holes in oversight must be filled for the safety of all Californians.  Rather than parsing its ability to regulate this portion and not that portion of a toxic waste plant, the DTSC should put itself at the forefront of saying that this is one dangerous accident too many.…. “

“On its face, the idea that the DTSC would have authority to regulate one part of a hazardous waste plant but not another is absurd, particularly when the release on July 6 was hazardous enough to warrant an evacuation, whether the dangerous leak was in the re-refinery area of the plant or not. “

Download the entire letter here with a timeline of events

On July 6, a pipe leak spewed a hazardous vapor filled with “heat transfer” chemicals used in re-refining. That  triggered an emergency evacuation of the facility.  The company and Newark police warned the surrounding community, including a nearby elementary school, to expect a wave of “strong chemical odors” from the leak.

See link to CAL-EMA public record of initial report here.

The DTSC said that the leak on July 6 took place in a portion of Evergreen’s facility where recycled oil is processed.  A DTSC official stated that the department’s hands are tied because the permit issued to Evergreen does not cover the part of the facility where the leak occurred. According to DTSC, once the waste oil has been partially treated, it is no longer considered a “hazard.”  But the heat transfer liquid used to control refining temperatures is hazardous, according to the Alameda County Health and Environmental Agency.

“Evergreen’s long history of repeated and serious safety violations has to come to an end,” said Tucker. “The department has to take control of the situation, including coordination with other regulators, for the sake of the community surrounding the Evergreen plant, and to set an example for all Californians.”

The July 6 accident markeds the latest in a string of problems at the plant that includes a burst pipe and major fire in March 2011 and repeated citations by the DTSC for safety violations and carelessness.  Yet the DTSC has let the company off the hook with consent decrees and hand-slap fines for at least a dozen years, said Consumer Watchdog.  The group said now is the opportune time for new leadership at the DTSC to rethink its approach to regulating hazardous waste and recycling facilities.

Click here for more.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s July 16 letter to DTSC Director Debbie Raphael here.

Also read Consumer Watchdog’s April 9 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I've always wondered about Evergreen. Not (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Don midwest, cany, radical simplicity

    surprised to hear that they're not so "green" in action!

  •  Could you be bit more specific? (0+ / 0-)

    What is the "hazardous industrial chemical" used for heat transfer? Was it a glycol-based fluid?  Are you suggesting that, upon being generated as a waste, it would be a listed hazardous waste or exhibit a hazardous characteristic? If so, can you cite the listing number or the characteristic?

    I didn't click on your link to the report because you used a URL shortener and I couldn't tell where it would send me. I don't like to click links without an indication of where they go.

    •  It's DOWTHERM (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh

      But they don't specify which DOWTHERM it is. Here are the options, from the Dow Chemical web site:

      DOWTHERM A heat transfer fluid is a eutectic mixture of two very stable compounds, biphenyl (C12H10) and diphenyl oxide (C12H10O). The fluid is dyed clear to light yellow to aid in leak detection.

      DOWTHERM A fluid may be used in systems employing either liquid phase or vapor phase heating. Suitable applications include indirect heat transfer. Visit our concentrated solar power site to learn more about DOWTHERM A in solar applications.

      DOWTHERM G heat transfer fluid contains a mixture of di- and tri-aryl ethers that offer remarkable performance in liquid phase heat transfer systems. It is one of the most thermally stable low pressure liquid phase heat transfer fluid on the market and has excellent flow characteristics at low temperatures.

      DOWTHERM J heat transfer fluid is a mixture of isomers of an alkylated aromatic specially engineered for demanding low-temperature applications in liquid phase pressurized systems. DOWTHERM J fluid offers remarkable low-temperature pumpability and thermal stability for protection against accidental overheating. Suitable applications include single fluid heating and cooling.

      DOWTHERM MX heat transfer fluid is a mixture of alkylated aromatics designed for use as an alternative to hot oils in liquid phase heat transfer systems. DOWTHERM MX fluid is suitable for use in non-pressurized systems; its good low temperature properties allow for low temperature start-up and pumpability. Expansion Tank Design: Even though DOWTHERM MX fluid can be operated in a non-pressurized system, it is recommended that the tank have an inert atmosphere. Nitrogen padding should be used on the expansion tank to exclude oxygen from the heat transfer system. The presence of oxygen will cause accelerated fluid degradation, which will considerably shorten the life of the fluid.

      DOWTHERM Q heat transfer fluid contains a mixture of diphenylethane and alkylated aromatics. Compared to hot oils, it exhibits better thermal stability, particularly at the upper end of hot oils' use range, and significantly better low-temperature pumpability. Suitable applications include use as an alternative to hot oils in liquid phase heat transfer applications.

      DOWTHERM RP heat transfer fluid is a diaryl alkyl intended for use in applications that require liquid phase heat transfer. Unlike other low pressure fluids — including partially hydrogenated terphenyls and dibenzyl toluene fluids — DOWTHERM RP fluid degrades primarily to low molecular weight products. This reduces the need to remove high molecular weight material from the system, resulting in longer fluid life, reduced fluid makeup requirements, less system downtime, and lower fluid and maintenance expense over the life of the heat transfer system. Suitable applications include non-pressurized or low pressure liquid phase systems including polyester, nylon, and other synthetic fiber processing facilities.

      DOWTHERM T heat transfer fluid is a mixture of C14-C30 alkyl benzenes intended for use in applications that require liquid phase heat transfer. Suitable applications: Non-pressurized liquid phase systems with a maximum temperature of 550°F (288°C).

      According to the report, whichever one it was, it escaped in vapor form, and one worker has been hospitalized after exposure.

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