With the sound of drums and shouts of “People power!” in the air, thousands of people expressed their anger against Chevron Saturday, almost a year after an oil refinery fire in Richmond.
More than 2,000 people took part in the rally that started at Richmond BART station and ended with a sit-in at the main gate of the Chevron refinery at Richmond Point. When 90-year-old protestor Ellen Small was arrested at the sit-in, some people in the crowd started chanting “Let the people go, arrest the CEO.”
Police said that they arrested and then later released 210 protestors. Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan said that the demonstration was peaceful and that there were no injuries. One person was arrested on suspicion of assault, he said.
The protest took place three days before the Aug. 6 anniversary of the refinery accident that resulted in a toxic cloud that injured six Chevron workers and sent more than 15,000 Richmond residents to local hospitals after breathing polluted air.
The city of Richmond is suing Chevron for damages stemming from the incident. “We are holding them accountable for damages to the city due to the fire. We have to let Chevron know that we are serious about this issue,” Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said while addressing the rally.
The mayor said that people of Richmond have suffered for decades. “The fire accident on Aug. 6 last year was horrible. The community doesn’t deserve to be traumatized. Our children have a right to live healthy.”
One of the protestors, Richmond resident Doria Robinson, said that living near Chevron is not easy. “Regular soil and air testing by an independent authority should be conducted to know the impact on the environment. The testing done by the health department is limited. We should know what we are being exposed to,” she said.
Robinson said that her organic garden was damaged due to last year’s fire. “Nothing has changed with Chevron in the last year. Safety is a big issue and we are all concerned.”
Henry Clark from West County Toxics Coalition, a non-profit organization, said Chevron is not a good neighbor. “We are going to hold Chevron accountable and elected officials accountable. Chevron is not a safe operation at all. They need to improve safety standards,” he said while addressing the rally from a temporary podium.
One of the protestors drove from Auburn, about 60 miles from Richmond, to take part in the rally. “Negligence caused the accident. If Chevron had spent money to improve their factories, this thing would not have happened,” said Dave Stoltz.
He said that the governments should focus on renewable energy sources like solar power, wind, and bio-fuels to reduce the dependence on oil and protect the environment.
Environmentalists contend that the refinery is a continuing threat to the health and safety of Richmond residents and hurts the region’s ecological health. “The Chevron Richmond refinery is the single largest producer of greenhouses gases in California,” said Andres Soto of Communities for a Better Environment.
A memorial to the victims of the accident is planned for Aug. 6 at Richmond Civic Center at 5:45 pm.