New Vallejo Mayor Wants Oil Industry to Pay for Air Monitors

A containment boom (seen as red line) is deployed around the tanker Yamuna Spirit at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. (Heidemarie Carle)

The incoming mayor of Vallejo is calling on oil companies to foot the bill for new air monitors in five Bay Area cities that sit near local refineries.

Mayor-elect Bob Sampayan wants the fossil fuel industry to pay for new devices in his city, Benicia, Martinez, Rodeo and Crockett -- communities near the Valero, Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66 facilities.

Sampayan's request was prompted by a mysterious odor that sickened dozens of Vallejo residents around the same time an oil spill was discovered in San Pablo Bay in September.

"I think it's incumbent upon all the petroleum industries that are here ... to provide that kind of good-neighbor help to the surrounding communities," Sampayan, who sits on the Vallejo City Council, said in an interview.

"I want to see a more expanded role with the oil companies in providing information should we have this kind of incident occur again," Sampayan said.

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His comments come after Vallejo City Manager Daniel Keen said the city is considering buying a new set of air monitoring devices because the ones they do have did not pick up any measurements from the odor that prompted hundreds of calls to Vallejo dispatchers on Sept. 20.

The U.S. Coast Guard's investigation into the oil spill concluded that the spill came from either the Phillips 66 refinery marine terminal in Rodeo or an oil tanker that was unloading crude there. But it came up empty on what caused the sickening odor.

"I think as a good neighbor, Conoco Phillips 66 should be concerned about providing air quality monitors to the surrounding communities," Sampayan said. "I want to see a more expanded role with the oil companies in providing information should we have this kind of incident occur again."

A spokesman for Phillips 66 did not respond to a request for comment, and a representative for the Western State Petroleum Association said the industry group has no comment.

Like other local refineries, Phillips 66 pays for fence-line and ground-level air monitors at its Rodeo facility. The company's fence-line program is managed by a third party, Argos Scientific, an environmental and natural resource company. You can see their data here.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District operates air monitors throughout the region that are paid for by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the district's general fund.

Along with the four mobile air monitors that the Vallejo Fire Department uses, the air district has a stationary monitor in the city, but none of them detected anything odd as the sickening odor moved through the city on Sept. 20.

The Fire Department's monitors did not pick up any abnormal measurements that day, according to Fire Chief Jack McArthur. And there were no air quality violations based on readings from the air district's ground-level monitoring device in Vallejo, district spokesman Ralph Borrmann said.

In the meantime, Vallejo city officials have yet to meet members of the air quality district close to three months after the incident. The two sides are still coordinating schedules to get that meeting set, according to Vallejo City Manager Daniel Keen.

Sampayan is still waiting for answers from air regulators.

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"I want to hear directly from them as to why they did not receive any unusual air quality readings ... when it was overwhelmingly terrible to breathe that, whatever it was, that was coming from the straits," Sampayan said.

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