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Explosion, Fire At Newark Oil Refinery Causes Acid Spill

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Newark, Evergreen Oil Refinery fire, explosion

Chopper 5 over the Evergreen Oil Refinery in Newark following an explosion and fire, March 29, 2011. (CBS)

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NEWARK (CBS/AP) — Fire crews were on the scene after an explosion caused a fire at an East Bay oil refinery.

The fire, reported around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, left one employee with an arm injury, but the community as a whole was not at risk, Alameda County fire spokeswoman Aisha Knowles said. The employee was taken to a hospital but did not appear to be severely injured, she said.

Two employees were performing a routine task at the plant when an equipment failure caused the release of hydrocarbon, which then caught fire, Alameda fire spokeswoman Knowles said.

The heat from the fire melted a nearby fiberglass tank containing hydrochloric acid, and the acid spilled into a contained area, Knowles said. The fire was extinguished and the acid cleaned up Tuesday morning.

KCBS’ Matt Bigler Reports:

Alameda County Fire officials say no evacuations were ordered. Some roads near the refinery have been blocked off as a precaution.

The refinery has been cited by the city 10 times since October for odor releases associated with leakages, Newark’s city manager said.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has also fined the company, Evergreen Oil, Inc., for 19 health and safety violations in the past few years, but no injuries or accidents have been reported at the facility, a Cal/OSHA spokeswoman said.

The facility at 6880 Smith Ave. was designed in part to purify used oil and complex watery oils found in service bays, car washes and garages so it can be reused, according to the company’s website.

City Manger John Becker said it would be premature to associate the odor leakages at the re-refinery with Tuesday’s fire, which shut down the plant.

“For a long time, Evergreen Oil did a pretty good job of getting a handle on issues with odor release,” Becker said. “It seems like within the last six months they’ve had some issues.”

A representative for the refinery could not be reached for comment.

Becker said it is too early to determine whether the fire would lead to penalties, but he said the company had been fined $100 for the first odor citation, $200 for the second, and $500 for each subsequent citation.

Becker said Tuesday morning it was not clear yet what caused the equipment to fail.

“We will definitely be working with Evergreen Oil to ensure that whatever caused this does not occur again,” he said.

Cal/OSHA fined Evergreen Oil $5,095 for the 19 health and safety violations uncovered during the investigation of a February 2007 complaint, agency spokeswoman Krisann Chasarik said.

The violations were not specific to the refinery industry and included infractions related to respiratory hazards, guardrails, confined space and emergency eye-washing stations, Chasarik said.

Cal/OSHA is investigating Tuesday morning’s fire to determine if anything could have been done to prevent the employee’s injury, Chasarik said.

She said investigations typically take about three or four months.

Becker praised the fire department for its quick response.

“Any time you’re dealing with fire in an industrial building, you’re always concerned about it getting out of control,” he said. “I thought the fire department did an outstanding job.”

A company hazardous materials team and Alameda County’s hazardous materials team were at the scene Tuesday morning monitoring the situation.

Knowles said there was no risk to public health, and no shelter-in-place orders were issued.

The state Department of Fish and Game also has a team on alert in case an on-scene commander requests their assistance, a spokesman said.

A woman who answered the phone at the nearby James L. Bunker Elementary School said classes were proceeding normally.

Firefighters from Hayward and Fremont assisted in the response.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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