Monday, August 30, 2010

BP's Other Toxic Spill

While most folks should be more than familiar with the massive oil spill caused by the fire and collapse of an oil rig in the Gulf Coast that was being operated on behalf of BP, few folks realize that the company had a major spill at a Texas City refinery that sickened many nearby residents.
For 40 days after a piece of equipment critical to the refinery’s operation broke down, a total of 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, poured out of the refinery.

Rather than taking the costly step of shutting down the refinery to make repairs, the engineers at the plant diverted gases to a smokestack and tried to burn them off, but hundreds of thousands of pounds still escaped into the air, according to state environmental officials.

Neither the state nor the oil company informed neighbors or local officials about the pollutants until two weeks after the release ended, and angry residents of Texas City have signed up in droves to join a $10 billion class-action lawsuit against BP. The state attorney general, Greg Abbott, has also sued the company, seeking fines of about $600,000.

BP maintains three air monitors along the fence around the plant and two in the surrounding community, and they did not show a rise in pollution during April and May, the company said. “BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with this event,” said Michael Marr, a spokesman for the company.

But scores of Texas City residents said they experienced respiratory problems this spring, and environmentalists said the release of toxic gases ranked as one of the largest in the state’s history.

Neil Carman of the Lone Star Sierra Club said the release was probably even larger than BP had acknowledged, because the company estimated that more than 98 percent of the pollution was burned off by a flare, an overly optimistic figure in the eyes of many environmental scientists.

He also said there were too few air monitors to accurately assess what had happened. “There are huge gaps in the monitoring network,” Mr. Carman said.

Dionne Ramirez, 29, who lives about a mile from the refinery, said she had little doubt that elevated pollution harmed her family. Not only have both she and her husband had coughs, but all three of their young sons have suffered from severe chest congestion, sore throats and endless coughing since April. Her 4-year-old had to be hospitalized for two nights because he could not stop coughing, she said.

When the news of the pollution was made public on June 4, Ms. Ramirez was irate. “I didn’t know why they were getting sick or what was going on,” she said. “They are healthy little kids.”
Texas City officials weren't notified of the problems until after the spill was over. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic materials were emitted without the local community aware of the problem or scope of the problem.

BP's actions in Texas City are similar to its actions in the oil spill disaster, where the company took shortcuts and safety protocols and procedures were not followed.

The company put profit ahead of safety to its own workers and those of the citizens around the refinery. A new report came out claiming that BP workers failed to spot warning signs at the well.

Earlier this month, BP was fined for a major fire and explosion at the facility in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.
OSHA issued several fines totaling $87.4 million against BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, last September over its failure to upgrade the plant. OSHA accused the company of 439 safety violations at the refinery. BP is contesting about $30 million of the OSHA fines.

The latest fine, the largest in OSHA’s history, tops the previous record of $21 million, which was also issued against BP over safety conditions at the plant. In addition to the fines, BP also faces wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits stemming from the deadly accident.
The Texas City refinery has a long history of slow response to problems at the facility and for cleaning up its act.

No comments: