Health officials in Contra Costa County, who monitor the situation after the huge fire that struck the Chevron refinery late Monday, are advising residents of Richmond, North Richmond, San Pablo and El Cerrito to “shelter-in-place”.

Smoke can cause throat and eye irritation though generally not serious if the exposure is limited. However, exposure to smoke can cause people with pre-existing lung disease, such as asthma, to experience wheezing or have trouble breathing. People who are experiencing trouble breathing should seek medical attention.

“There’s fine particles in smoke, and it can bypass the lungs and go into the circulatory system,” said Lisa Fasano, a spokeperson for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “People who have asthma, emphysema and other lung conditions may find it very difficult to breathe.”

Lisa Fasano of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said there are five air quality inspectors headed to the scene to collect air samples both up- and downwind of the fire.

Dozens of people complaining about breathing problems headed to local emergency rooms.

At the press conference, refinery general manager Nigel Hearne offered an apology to residents and said the priority is extinguishing the blaze.

The Chevron Richmond Refinery is one the largest in the United States – processing up to 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to the company’s website.

In 2006, there was an explosion at this plant that sent hundreds of people to the hospital. There were also incidents in 1999 and 2007.


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