Oil and gas infrastructure poisoning Texas with 30,000 tons of toxic chemicals a year

By Environment News Service

Flares, leaking pipelines and tanks emitted 92,000 tons of toxic chemicals into the air during accidents, break-downs and maintenance at Texas oil and gas facilities, refineries and petrochemical plants over the past three years, finds a report released today by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, EIP.

Based on data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a state agency, the EIP report shows that, in addition to the emissions from normal operations, more than 42,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and just over 50,000 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds were released from 2009 through 2011. The report shows a “pattern of neglect” as the pollution from these events drags on for weeks or months.

Community groups, including the EIP, notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today that they will take the agency to court if it fails to crack down on this toxic pollution.

Hilton Kelley, executive director of Communities In-power and Development in Port Arthur, Texas, sees the health effects of these emissions every day. “The EPA knows there are a disproprortionate number of people living with respiratory, cancer, liver and kidney disease directly related to what they’re being exposed to,” he told reporters on a conference call today.

“Within Port Arthur I personally know at least 12 people who have recently died from cancer and one young lady who died from an asthma attack,” said Kelley. “The Environmental Protection Agency must do a better job of counting the toxic pollution dumped into low-income and minority communities.”

In Houston, Juan Parras, founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, said, “I am a firm believer and advocate for clean air, however, I live in an environment where ‘clean’ is dictated by petrochemical, gas plants, and oil refineries in the Houston Region. They decide what they can get away with and blame their highly toxic emissions on ‘accidents’ that they claim are beyond their control.”

While both sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, VOCs, are linked to asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments, and can contribute to premature death from heart disease, because they result from these so-called “emission events,” they are usually not included in the data the government uses to establish regulations or evaluate public health impacts.

Natural gas operations, including well heads, pipelines, compressors, boosters, and storage systems, accounted for more than 85 percent of total sulfur dioxide and nearly 80 percent of the VOCs released during these emission events, the Environmental Integrity Project report shows.

The Clean Air Act makes polluters strictly liable for their mistakes, but loopholes in regulations either excuse violations that result from malfunctions altogether, or allow polluters to escape penalties by claiming that such mishaps are beyond the control of plant operators. As a result, federal or state agencies rarely even investigate these events, much less take enforcement action.

Read more from Environment News Service: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jul2012/2012-07-18-01.html

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