This blog post is part one of a two part series. See part one.
Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill- 2010
By far, the most horrific pollution incident over the last decade is the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig, where a fire burned for 36 hours before the oil rig sank. Caused by a gas leak, this explosion resulted in hydrocarbons leaking into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days until they were finally sealed off.
Eleven people died and 17 were injured from the explosion. The spill caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. Scientists reported an 80 mile “kill zone” surrounding the well. Over 400 wildlife species hurt/threatened by the biggest oil spill in U.S. history and the second largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Almost five million barrels of oil leaked into the ocean before the well was capped on July 15, 2010. The well is dead, but it has left industries and livelihoods on life support in its wake.
Citgo Petroleum Corporation- 2007
At the Citgo East Plant refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, state inspectors found during an unannounced visit that the organization was operating open top tanks as oil water separators without first installing emission controls for benzene required by federal and state regulations. The inspectors found 4.5 million gallons of oil in two 12 million-gallon tanks; these tanks accounted for more than 57 metric tons of benzene in the waste streams, which are exposed to the air. Federal regulations limit refineries to operate with 6 or less metric tons of benzene in their exposed waste streams.
As a result, Citgo was indicted for the lack of emissions controls and for failing to identify all of the points in the refinery wastewater system where benzene was generated in a report to the TCEQ. This case is still ongoing; however, if Citgo is found guilty, the company could face up to $500,000 fines for each of the 10 counts of environmental violations at the refinery. Residents near the plant are paying careful attention to the outcome of the case; many of them believe the dangerous benzene emissions are responsible for their health problems. The Houston Chronicle spoke with Kimberly Curiel, a resident in the area. "Cancer, cancer, cancer," she said, pointing to a string of houses on her old street where neighbors have fallen ill. "That just doesn't happen very often."
Air Products and Chemical Plant- 2010
On February 16, 2010, the Air Products and Chemical Plant shut down due to a pipe leak after a unit tripped offline. This leak emitted an orange cloud of nitric acid, a toxic irritant, over Highway 225, an area with heavy traffic. The City of Pasadena officials initially claimed “there was no danger to the public”. However, several individuals who came in contact with the nitric acid cloud were sent to the hospital after they had trouble breathing.
Nitric acid is a dangerous colorless, highly corrosive liquid which can cause severe burns and irritation to the eyes. The city shut down Highway 225 for several hours and issued a shelter in place until the leak could be contained and the plant was secured.
BP Refinery in Texas City- 2011
In November 2011, there were reports of gas leaks at a BP refinery in Texas City, the third largest refinery in the U.S. A caller initially reported a sulfur dioxide leak to the National Response Center. There is some confusion on the extent of the sulfur dioxide leak, since BP claims the report was not made by a company employee. However, BP did confirm an ongoing leak of methyl mercaptan, a smelly gas added to natural gas as a safety measure; the odor was bad enough that 30 workers from a neighboring plant downwind were taken to the hospital. Texas City Emergency Manager and Homeland Security Director Bruce Clawson said of the gas leaking from the plant, “It smells ugly and makes you sick. It’s not a small matter.”
Magnablend Chemical Plant Fire- 2011
As we told you late last year, a fire broke out at Magnablend, Inc. on October 3, 2011 in Waxahachie, Texas that was caused by blending of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid. This led to the evacuation for an apartment complex, an elementary school, a junior college and nearly 1,000 residents who live close to the chemical plant.
Upon further investigation, officials discovered that neither EPA officials nor the Waxahachie Fire Rescue team were aware of what Magnablend produced at the plant and that a risk management plan had not been filed for the facility. The TCEQ issued an air pollution watch level orange for that day.
We Need Better Solutions and to Increase Prevention Efforts
Within Region VI of EPA, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Arkansas, there is an average of one shelter in place a week due to upset events at different facilities. One a week! While a rare disaster may be unavoidable, most of these terrible pollution events are completely preventable. These disasters are unfortunate and cause severe damage to our health and our environment. My hopes for this year are that we will resolve to lower the number of pollution events through strict air quality standards, strong rules in place for construction and operation of chemical facilities, and harsh penalties to encourage companies to keep our air and water clean and safe.
I am thrilled to see the recent passage of new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by the EPA. Let’s keep up this great momentum throughout the next decade and prevent disasters like these from destroying our environment and contributing to increased public health risks.