Oil giant Chevron announced this week that it had paid $10 million in health-related claims arising from a fire at a Northern California refinery that sent thousands to area hospitals.
In a report filed with public health officials in Contra Costa County, where the Richmond, Calif., refinery is located on the shore of San Francisco Bay, the oil company also said it had started taking "corrective actions" as a result of the fire.
The fire sent up thick, black smoke that was visible for miles and forced residents of Richmond and nearby cities to shelter in their homes for hours after the massive fire broke out.
Federal investigators have said that responding Chevron firefighters may have accidentally punctured a main pipeline that sparked the massive blaze, according to CBS News in San Francisco.
Nearly 24,000 health claims were filed, Chevron said, after the company said it would pay for documented injuries or damage and opened a claims center convenient to nearby residents.
The $10 million paid so far covered "valid" claims and reimbursements to local agencies and medical facilities, Chevron's report said.
But the money paid so far does not include thousands of personal injury claims already filed against Chevron by local residents, according to Oakland, Calif., attorney John Burris, lead attorney for a group of plaintiffs he said totalled more than 10,000.
Plaintiffs' lawsuit claims Chevron officials failed to ensure the refinery was operating safely and took too long to assess the problem, which started out as a small leak but became an out-of-control fire after a few hours, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
Burris said residents who receive a payment from Chevron for health claims are not precluded from suing the oil company for damages, the newspaper said.
Chevron also faces the possibility of millions of dollars in state fines for violations of worker safety laws at the refinery, the newspaper said.
Results of a state safety investigation are expected to be released this week.
In a letter sent with their report to the county on Monday, Chevron officials promised to undertake safety upgrades at the refinery and improve training of managers, inspectors and engineers at the facility.
Oil company officials have admitted knowing about corrosion in the pipeline that sprang a leak, but opted not to replace it during a maintenance operation in November 2011, the newspaper said.
"We also are making certain that we have the appropriate technical resources to assist in any evaluation of the fitness of equipment for service," Steve Wildman, the refinery's manager of process safety, said in the letter.
Chevron was faulted after the fire by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for violating company standards and protocols on when to replace corroded pipes, the newspaper said.