In a hurricane-related matter, Valero Energy Partners’ Houston refinery suffered a hurricane-related spill on Aug. 27 when the roof of a light crude storage tank became damaged during the storm. Valero initially reported that it had lost seven pounds of benzene to the atmosphere as a result of the spill. However, the company has subsequently reported that it “significantly underestimated the amount of [volatile organic chemicals] and benzene released in its original report to the State of Texas Environmental Electronic Reporting System.”
Environmental advocates have criticized Valero’s initial underestimates, arguing that in the interest of public safety the plants are supposed to report the highest potential amounts of emissions during unusual events and then adjust figures lower as more information comes in. Underreporting emissions places the public at risk, and indeed, 20 residents from a nearby neighborhood called a city hotline to report gas odors between Aug. 25 and 31.
These calls prompted the city to take air quality readings, and while a test on Aug. 31 did not find anything unusual, a measurement on Sept. 2 showed high levels of benzene, which increased to 325 parts per billion by Sept. 4.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, concentrations of nearly twice that over a mere 15-minute period can cause acute health effects such as dizziness and headaches. Though ambient benzene levels in the atmosphere vary based on the wind, it’s unclear what levels of exposure residents faced.
Other plants also had significant benzene emissions during this period. According to the environmental group Environment Texas, companies had estimated in initial reports that there were 5.9 million pounds of emissions because of the storm, the bulk of these emissions being due to shutdown and startup operations. This included upwards of 55,000 pounds of benzene and 212,000 pounds of the carcinogen 1,3-butadiene.
If you would like more information, you can contact Grant Cofer, a lawyer in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section. He can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email at Grant.Cofer@beasleyallen.com.
Source: Wall Street Journal