MARTINEZ -- Federal chemical safety officials sent a sharply worded letter to Tesoro CEO Gregory Goff on Wednesday alleging that officials at the company's oil refinery near Martinez have violated federal law in blocking investigators from the site of a sulfuric acid release that burned two workers.
Three U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigators showed up a day after the Feb. 12 incident and initially gained access, but Tesoro's lawyers raised "jurisdictional challenges" and forced the investigators to leave, said Dan Horowitz, the CSB's managing director.
In the letter sent Wednesday, the agency's three-member board alleged several violations of the federal statute governing the safety board, including "refusing to permit the CSB to return to the site, refusing to preserve the site, prohibiting the conduct of certain interviews and indicating that you will not comply with a duly issued document subpoena and other document requests."
Two workers suffered injuries in the acid spill at the Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery. The workers were airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center and treated for first- and second-degree burns and released, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
In a prepared statement released Feb. 21, Tesoro spokeswoman Melissa Flynn said the company was "surprised" that CSB intended to investigate the incident, which she said resulted in "minor chemical burns" to two employees.
"Tesoro has decided that it must respectfully decline to participate in the CSB's review due to their lack of authority in this particular instance," Flynn wrote.
Federal law gives CSB power to investigate "any accidental release resulting in a fatality, serious injury or substantial property damages," according to the legislative code that appears on the agency's website.
Further, the CSB "is authorized to conduct research and studies with respect to the potential for accidental releases, whether or not an accidental release has occurred, where there is evidence which indicates the presence of a potential hazard or hazards."
"(The burns) absolutely constitute serious injuries," the CSB letter read.
Flynn did not comment Wednesday, saying in an email that Tesoro had received the letter and is "in the process of reviewing it."
The CSB has filed a subpoena to force Tesoro to comply with the investigation and turn over records related to the accident. Tesoro must respond to the subpoena by March 7, Horowitz said.
"The action taken by Tesoro in preventing lawfully authorized CSB investigators from performing their official duties calls into question why Tesoro has taken this unprecedented action," the CSB board wrote. "It creates a real concern that Tesoro may be trying to withhold other facts and issues from the agency."
Tesoro has also come under fire from The United Steelworkers over the incident. The union earlier this week issued a statement demanding that management at Tesoro"develop a comprehensive, cohesive safety program."
"Tesoro management trivialized the extent of the workers' injuries to establish jurisdictional defense specifically to avoid the scrutiny of U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and other agencies," USW International Vice President Gary Beevers said in the statement. "Management's platitudes about operating safely have been exposed, as constant downward pressure to produce continues to threaten workers, their communities and the environment."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.