Refinery, Tanker Firm Cited for Fumes That Sickened Scores in Vallejo

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

Local air regulators have issued notices of violation to the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo and to the operator of an oil tanker for spilling crude oil they say caused an overpowering odor that sickened Vallejo residents last September.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District says it has concluded its investigation into the incident and now believes the spill near the refinery's marine terminal is to blame for fumes that prompted more than 1,400 odor complaints.

The fumes and resulting odor led Vallejo officials to impose a shelter-in-place order for the city of 120,000. Some residents sought medical attention after suffering breathing problems, and the air district said Friday the incident led to 100 hospital visits.

The Sept. 20 oil spill in San Pablo Bay led to investigations by the Coast Guard and the state's Office of Spill Prevention and Response. The Coast Guard probe blamed Phillips 66 and the operators of the tanker, the Yamuna Spirit, for the oil spill. Both companies rejected those findings.

But until now, no investigation had definitively linked the oil spill to the fumes that wafted over Vallejo.

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"The air district thoroughly investigated this incident and determined the Phillips 66 refinery and the Yamuna Spirit oil tanker operator played a role in this event and both parties will be held accountable," said Jack Broadbent, the agency's executive officer, in a statement Friday.

The public nuisance violations issued Friday carry monetary penalties. The fines will likely be the subject of settlement talks involving the district, the refinery and the shipping company, air regulators said.

In February, the air district told KQED it had completed its probe, though its staff had not produced a report or even written anything down concerning the incident. That disclosure prompted questions from state legislators, Vallejo residents and environmental advocates who had been seeking answers about the episode. The agency later backtracked and said its investigation was continuing.

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