Nearly one month ago, the Chevron refinery in Richmond caught fire. It happened while I was at a Left Coast Writers event. I drove home through an unfamiliar kind of fog. In the San Francisco Bay area, our fog is fluffy, clean, and smells of the Pacific Ocean. Chevron's fog was something else entirely. Smoky and black, benzene-soaked and plastic-flavored. It was the fog of nightmares.
We live in the hills, where ancient trees and exotic flowers help us forget how the Chevron poison makers are lurking about in their poorly-maintained refinery, only 5 short miles away. It's out of sight, out of mind...until the smoke from their unforgivable accident blew 3 miles into the air and blanketed the entire East Bay and beyond. Chevron's filth contaminated public land, seeped into private homes, and sent 900+ human beings to the hospital for treatment of respiratory distress and other ailments. Unacceptable.
Then, somewhat late and haphazardly, we were told to "shelter in place." Stay indoors. Shut windows. Close chimney flues. Keep pets inside. If in a drafty home, tape around the windows and put damp towels under the doors to create a better seal. The Bay Area Rapid Transit halted service to El Cerrito and Richmond; we shuddered at the deafening, eerie silence of no trains. Shortly thereafter, the emergency sirens erupted, not the heroes-on-the-way, fire truck kind, but rather the spooky, emergency kind you only hear if there's an earthquake or a tornado or a nuclear accident. These were the low, loud, horrifying sirens that can make a person's heart spasm with fear. What happened? We all wanted to know. What have we been exposed to?
We still don't know exactly why Chevron caught fire. History has shown us incidents such as this one don't just happen.These catastrophes typically have birthdays, a history, a villain. Bean counters who think updating the facility would be too expensive. Executives who sign off on cutting a few corners and then take a vacation to the French Riviera. We'll never know exactly who was responsible or why. We'll never know exactly what was released into the air that night. What I do know is the brand of the gasoline I'm going to be boycotting at the pump from now on.