There is now a criminal investigation into pollutant emissions at Chevron Corp.’s refinery in Richmond, CA, said Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials.

The investigation concerns whether Chevron routed sulfur dioxide and other pollutants to bypass the refinery’s air emissions monitoring system.

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In August, Chevron’s 245,000 barrel-a-day refinery caught fire which sent plumes of black smoke over the San Francisco Bay and sent hundreds of area residents to the hospital complaining of respiratory and eye problems.

The EPA investigation focuses on emissions during a three-year period, said Wayne Kino, enforcement manager at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).

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Chevron in 2011 paid a $170,000 settlement to the BAAQMD stemming from the agency’s civil complaint about the refinery routing pollutants past monitoring systems. At the time, the refinery did not connect some of pipes to monitoring systems put into place after the agency developed new emission rules, Kino said.

“We would require them to either monitor [the pollutants] or reroute them into the whole system,” Kino said.

During the period investigated by the BAAQMD, the refinery sent an unknown amount of sulfur and waste oil to burn at the plant’s flare, Kino said.

When asked about the criminal investigation into the Chevron refinery’s routing of pollutants, the EPA declined to comment on what it called ongoing enforcement matters.

Chevron said it learned about the current EPA investigation in March.

The emissions under investigation occurred in 2011 and involved 200 pounds of sulfur dioxide, Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said. “We are currently cooperating with the government’s investigation,” Comey said of the EPA investigation.

The refinery is the largest in the San Francisco Bay Area and accounts for nearly 10% of the refining capacity in the U.S. West Coast. It produces gasoline, diesel fuel and assorted petrochemicals.

A separate investigation is underway at the refinery on what caused the August fire.

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