The Tesoro refinery in Martinez mistakenly issued a test alert to the surrounding community in the middle of a real emergency last Tuesday that caused flaring and sent a large plume of black smoke into the air.
A major part of the refinery, which can process 166,000 barrels of crude oil a day, malfunctioned and halted operations at several of the facility's units. The problem eventually led to a real Level Two community warning, advising nearby residents with respiratory problems to stay indoors because of the smoke drifting from Tesoro's property.
While no one was injured and no one reported becoming ill from the smoke, the company's delay in sending out the actual alert has led a top East Bay health official to call on Tesoro to better train its employees during emergencies.
"They hit the wrong one, the one for test instead of the one for the actual condition. It's a training issue that needs to be addressed," Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County's chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, said in an interview.
The shift superintendent who issued the notification as a test was actually in training, according to Tesoro's preliminary report on the incident.