EPA cites BP's Whiting refinery for violating Clean Air Act

The EPA cited the BP Whiting Refinery plant for violating the Clean Air Act after the agency says the plant released the toxin benzene from 2003 to 2008. Benzene has been linked to leukemia and other serious health problems.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said BP was unaware that a section of Whiting’s wastewater treatment facility was collecting benzene.

"We discovered a handful of areas within the water treatment plants that didn’t have carbon canisters that capture the benzene from the water and we self-reported these emissions to the EPA,” he says.

There are a number of streams in the refinery that go to the wastewater treatment facility to filter out benzene that could be harmful if it were to evaporate into the air. BP did not know one of the streams without the equipment to filter benzene vapor was in fact collecting the toxic chemical, says EPA spokesman George Czerniak.

However, Dean says the surrounding citizens should not be concerned,

“The amount averaged less the 20 pounds per day; too small to show a risk to the community or the environment,” he says.

Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, says the surrounding community will suffer the consequences.

“Benzene is one of the most dangerous things out there so any exposure is going to cause health problems for the community because they are going to get the most concentrated dose,” he says.

Dr. Peter Orris, Chief of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at UIC, agrees.

“Any increased release is increasing the risk of harm to people,” he says.

EPA cited the refinery for the violations and notified them May 19, Czerniak says.

“They apparently were not aware for a number of years that they were over the limit,” Czerniak says.

Czerniak says punishments to the company may depend on how well BP interacts with the EPA.

“If they want to try and resolve this violation with us it can be resolved relatively quickly with a penalty,” he says.

Dean says BP fixed the problem and has already contacted the EPA to further discuss the violation.

Bessie Dent lives in Hammond close to the refinery and is the program coordinator for the Calumet Project. She is concerned about those living closely to the refinery and their health.

Dent says her community is a victim of environmental injustice. She says those who can afford to move away from the already have, while others who cannot afford it must bear the consequences.

"I think it’s one reason we need some independent monitoring around at the refinery because it took six years for this to come out," she says.