RICHMOND (CBS SF) – A long line of people formed around a help center that opened Friday at the Nevin Community Center in Richmond as residents waited to file liability claims against Chevron for costs related to Monday’s fire at the oil company’s refinery in the city.
By 3 p.m., 347 people had filed claims at the center seeking reimbursement for medical care, property damage and lost wages related to the fire, which sent thick smoke and soot throughout Bay Area communities and prompted a shelter-in-place warning for residents in Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo.
That number is in addition to the 3,859 people who have filed a claim through a hot line set up by Chevron, according to company spokeswoman Katie Winter, who helped people check in Friday.
The center will be open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. all next week. Insurance services company Crawford and Co. is handling the claims.
On the heels of the fire that burned for five hours Monday night, Chevron has pledged to reimburse all “reasonable” claims.
By noon Friday, 5,763 people had been treated and released at local emergency rooms with complaints of symptoms related to the blaze, Contra Costa Health Services spokeswoman Katie Fowler said.
While Chevron representatives said they did not have a breakdown of the types of costs the claims filed so far have sought to reimburse, spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said most are for out-of-pocket health care, property damage and lost earnings.
Friday afternoon, area residents waited in the line snaking around the community center to file their claims, some with hospital receipts and prescriptions in hand.
Paul Stewart, 52, said he’s struggled with Asthma for years, but never as badly as he has after Monday’s fire, which he said caused him to wait eight hours before being seen in the crowded emergency room at Doctor’s Medical Center in San Pablo earlier this week.
“It made it so I couldn’t breathe at all,” he said. “I’m taking a lot more medicine than I ever have.”
The lifelong Richmond resident said he expects to be reimbursed, if only minimally, by Chevron, but added that he would be careful not to sign anything that might prevent him from filing a legal complaint against the oil giant later.
“These people should not sign their rights off,” he said, glancing at the line of people front of him.
Chevron representatives today said the company is not asking those who file liability claims to give up their right to a lawsuit.
Richmond resident Oscar Hoyos, 46, said he’s just as concerned with seeing Chevron take responsibility for its actions than he is with getting his money back for out-of-pocket medical costs.
“It’s not only about the money, it’s about responsibilities,” he said.
Hoyos, who was outdoors working construction in Richmond when the fire started, said he headed to Kaiser Richmond on Tuesday when he started experiencing eye irritation and stomach problems.
“That’s what we are worried about … some symptoms come with time,” he noted.
While waiting in line, Hoyos chatted with a San Pablo woman about her experience during and after the refinery fire.
The woman, a 53-year-old former nurse’s assistant named Verna who declined to give her last name, said she hasn’t suffered symptoms related to the fire but is worried about the long-term health effects and came to the center to get answers.
“Smoke inhalation can kill you – and that stuff is still in the air,” she said.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District corrected its original assessment Thursday of that there were no detectable pollutants from the fire above normal levels. The district now says air samples after the fire revealed levels of a pollutant called acrolein that are above the federally recommended exposure limit.
Particulate matter, the most harmful pollutants released during the fire, according to Contra Costa County Health officials, is likely what has caused respiratory illness, irritation, headaches and other symptoms reported by residents.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)