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Shelby County Health Department releases report on July fire incident at Valero Refinery

Memphians noticed the large amount of smoke coming from the Valero refinery on July 25th, wondering just what happened.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — The Shelby County Health Department released a report Friday, Sept. 1, 2023, on a reported fire at the Valero refinery in Memphis.

On Tuesday, July 25, the health department said the refinery on Riverport Road experienced an "unplanned MLGW power interruption," which it said triggered the refinery's flare system. They said that resulted in a burn-off process, in which "Valero released excessive confined gas to reduce pressure on the refinery system, increasing flames and smoke." 

The health department said Valero filed a required report about the incident. Find it at https://shelbytnhealth.com/DocumentCenter/View/4903/Exceedance-Notifications-Dated-7-25-23.

According to the report, 941 pounds of Sulfur Dioxide was released. Valero said in the report, "no known or anticipated acute or chronic health risk" has been associated with the release.

The health department said its Air Pollution Control Section is reviewing the report, and "may investigate further if warranted."

At the time of the incident, the Memphis Fire Department said the head-turning blaze was not cause for concern. When firefighters responded to the scene, there was no danger and "no firefighting effort was required," according to MFD.

MLGW said the Valero Refinery "may have been impacted" by a substation fault, which caused a power surge and low water pressure.

The Shelby County Health Department later confirmed the power failure caused the excess flames and smoke in this statement the day after:

"Last night, at approximately 6:45 p.m., the Valero Memphis Refinery at 2385 Riverport Road experienced an unplanned MLGW power interruption, that affected much of the Memphis area. According to Valero, the power failure disrupted regular crude oil refinery process operations triggering Valero's flare system. During the resulting burn-off process, Valero released excessive confined gas to reduce pressure on the refinery system, increasing flames and smoke. 

The Health Department is monitoring the situation and working with Valero. Valero will send a preliminary report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Memphis-Shelby County Local Emergency Planning Committee, and the Shelby County Health Department within ten days. SCHD will review the information and investigate the incident further within 30-45 days after receipt of the report."

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