Breaking: Don’t Eat Produce Grown in Martinez Gardens, CCHS Says

With spring and gardening season just around the corner, Contra Costa Health (CCH) is warning residents near the Martinez Refining Company (MRC) not to eat produce grown in soil that may have been exposed to “spent catalyst” with heavy metals until further environmental testing is completed.

“We are making this recommendation out of an abundance of caution,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, health officer for Contra Costa County, who issued a health advisory on the matter today. “There is no immediate health threat to the community, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

It all started on the night of November 24, 2022. From about 9:30 p.m. to the early hours of the following morning, MRC accidentally showered nearby neighborhoods with more than 20 tons of spent catalyst, a dust-like substance that CCH later determined to contain elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, nickel, vanadium and zinc.

Dr. Tzvieli said refinery neighbors in Martinez and Pacheco can safely plant seeds now in their yards and gardens. However, he urged them to wait for the results of environmental testing before eating anything grown in soils exposed to the spent catalyst. Testing results are expected in the late spring or early summer.

For those still concerned about gardening in potentially contaminated ground soil, Dr. Tzvieli said people can choose to safely grow produce in pots, planters or raised garden beds using fresh soil.

CCH has referred the case to the District Attorney and an 11-member oversight committee has been formed to oversee an independent investigation and risk assessment of the November incident. The committee will be holding its second meeting on March 9.

We know the environmental aftermath of the incident is frustrating and hard to swallow, but it’s important to remember that the safety of the community is the top priority. The best we can do right now is take CCH’s advice and wait for the results of the investigation. For more information on the independent investigation and risk assessment, visit

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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