Elizabeth Norman, 58, is a Richmond resident who lives on the downwind side north of Chevron’s refinery, where a fire broke out on Monday in the refinery’s Crude Unit 4, sending noxious clouds of smoke over her house. Norman, who sometimes uses a home-based oxygen support system for a respiratory ailment, said she hadn’t used her oxygen support system in a while, but was forced to revert to the device due to the smoke from the fire and has been coughing intermittently since Monday.
“I am on oxygen and haven’t had to use it for a long time,” Norman said, coughing sometimes as she stood in line to file her claim. “But I have been coughing sputum with blood since Monday night. I haven’t seen a doctor because I have breathing issues and have had to use my oxygen again.”
Norman was one of more than 500 residents from Richmond and nearby cities who filed claims at Chevron’s Nevin Claim Center on the opening day of business for the oil giant’s walk-in claims center on Friday. May of the residents who came to the center Friday were filing claims for medical expenses incurred after the fire. In addition to Richmond residents, there were claimants from the North Oakland hills, El Cerrito, San Pablo and Pinole.
Chevron has set up both a hotline and a claims center, and stated that it will compensate residents for out-of-pocket expenses incurred while seeking medical attention for illnesses caused by the smoke and any injuries or damage to property. The claims hotline is 866-260-7881. At least 6,300 residents have filed claims for compensation since Monday, according to figures released by Chevron spokesperson Katie Winter.
On Friday, Norman spent an hour waiting to meet a claim adjuster and file her claim. She opted to return next week after Chevron representatives told her the claims center had gone over capacity and could not take any more claims for the day. “It’s alright. I have doctors appointments next week and will come in and file my claim,” Norman said.
The Nevin Center, a community recreational center that Chevron is renting to expedite the processing of claims, went over capacity Friday as representatives from Chevron and at least six adjusters received residents who have suffered respiratory, skin and eye ailments following the fire that broke out Monday.
“We are over-capacity for today and fully booked for Saturday,” a Chevron representative told residents arriving to file claims Friday evening as they tried to reschedule new cases to next week. “We’ll be here as long as people need to file claims. There will be no limit on when people can file claims.”
Winter said at least 5,800 residents had filed claims over phone through the hotline that Chevron set up Wednesday to receive claims. “I think we will see more people coming in to file claims,” Winter said. “We are open Saturday and have six adjusters meeting with residents.”
People from across the county filed claims, among them elderly asthma patients and residents who have previously received compensation from Chevron for health complaints resulting from other refinery accidents. It is not the first time for Marvin Crosby, 44, who says he has lived in Richmond all his life, to claim compensation from Chevron for health complications resulting from accidents at the Richmond refinery. Crosby said he received at least $2, 700 following an incident at the refinery in the 1990s.
“My eyes have been itching, my throat has been sore, and I have shortness of breath,” Crosby said of Monday’s fire. “I filed a claim the last time this happened, but this is much worse.”
Elvin Holland, 63, who lives in Richmond’s Hilltop area, suffers from asthma, and says he has used more than half of his inhaler since breathing smoke from the refinery fire Monday, costing him more than $150. “It smelled like a bad egg,” Holland said. “It has been really bad and I have used more than $150 since Monday.”
Inside the claims center, residents were asked to fill forms specifying what symptoms they had suffered, what medical expenses they had incurred and whether they wanted to see a doctor immediately or make an appointment for a later day.
“It’s a pretty straightforward process,” said Frances Woods, who lives right outside the perimeter of Chevron’s refinery, as she came out of the claims center with her forms. “They aren’t asking that many questions.” Woods said she could see the flames at the refinery from her back door. “The smoke trickled into my apartment, I got burning eyes, nausea and my nose plugged, but it went away,” she said.
Not all of the residents lining up to file claims had documented medical expenses, with many saying they were filing claims for ailments they anticipated they would suffer after having noticed symptoms from inhaling the smoke as they slept in their homes on Monday. They said they had been unable to visit hospitals due to a shelter-in-place order that was in effect until later on Monday night.
Chevron opened the claims center a day after it released its initial incident report filed with the Contra Costa County’s Health Services Department, detailing the events that led to the explosion and identifying the chemical that were released as a result of the fire that burned at its refinery for more than 36 hours before firefighters overcame it.
The report showed that the fire had released hydrocarbons, methane, sulphur oxide, hydrogen oxide, nitrogen oxide, among other materials. At least five Chevron employees suffered injuries, according to the report. The report shows that apart from the one employee previously reported to have suffered a minor burn on the wrist, four other employees suffered injuries. An employee suffered a minor burn to small area of the left ear, another suffered abdominal strain, with two other employees suffering respiratory irritation and a skin irritation.