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Refinery fire leads to government agency infighting

Following an enormous fire that occurred at the Chevron refinery in California, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and the Environmental Protection Agency are working at almost cross purposes. The fire, which sent more than 15,000 people to the hospital, has led to a seven month document dispute between the agencies. The goal of the safety board is to determine what caused the fire to ensure that it never happens again. On the other hand, the EPA is more interested in finding out who was responsible for the circumstances that led to the fire and pressing criminal charges.

On Aug. 6, 2012, clouds of black smoke and gas began coming from the Chevron refinery, which is only 10 miles away from San Francisco. In the weeks following the accident, thousands of people from surrounding neighborhoods required medical attention due to respiratory issues. In an effort to compensate local hospitals, government agencies and settle 24,000 claims, Chevron has already paid out $10 million.

There is no question that if there was criminal wrongdoing, both agencies want the guilty parties to face appropriate penalties. However, the EPA's determination to find the culprit has stymied the safety board's investigations. For obvious reasons, people are less willing to talk about safety failures if they may be charged with a crime. This may prevent investigators from finding the underlying cause of the fire and preventing a similar incident from occurring again.

Individuals who are injured at their place of work are able to collect workers' compensation benefits, which can cover medical costs and wages. An attorney could explain someone's rights and what is needed to qualify for these benefits.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, "Safety vs enforcement: Agencies at odds over probe", Pete Yost, August 27, 2013

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