Tag Archives: Asthma

Fenceline Communities Face an Ongoing Invisible Assault of Toxics Emanating from Refineries

Repost from NRDC Switchboard – Diane Bailey’s Blog
[Editor: In the flurry of warranted high emotion over potential catastrophic derailments and explosions, we risk neglecting the far more widespread and lasting disaster of public health and harm to the environment caused by the production, refining and burning of fossil fuels.  This by our friend Diane Bailey should be required reading for everyone, and especially for those of us living in “fenceline” communities.  – RS]

Fenceline Communities Face an Ongoing Invisible Assault of Toxics Emanating from Refineries

By Diane Bailey, ‎November ‎18, ‎2014
Diane Bailey
Diane Bailey, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council

Drive past the other-worldly refinery landscape in Deer Park, Texas and you have to lunge for the recirc button to avoid the sickeningly-sweet chemical odors. That’s not an option for the more than 200,000 people living along the petrochemical complex of the Houston Ship Channel; they can’t press a recirc button to avoid exposure to those chemical fumes. Such is the problem for hundreds of thousands of Americans living in refinery fenceline communities that are often plagued by foul odors and safety risks.

Houston_Ship_Channel_Galena.jpg

Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Of much greater concern though, are the invisible impacts of the toxic chemicals emanating from all the towers, pipes and tanks of refineries. Called “fugitive emissions,” these are chemicals that leak or escape not just during accidents, but also during every day operations. For many facilities, chemicals are leaking in greater quantities than from exhaust pipes where they are tracked and reported. Here is a summary of what these chemical pollutants are, health impacts that refinery fenceline communities face, and what can be done about it.

The Chemicals That Leak Across Fencelines

Oil refineries release several hundred hazardous air pollutants. Many of these chemical pose serious health hazards even at very low levels of exposure, and some can build up in the environment contaminating fish, soil and even household dust. These chemicals contribute to a wide range of serious health impacts including asthma and respiratory illnesses, developmental impacts like IQ loss, cancer, heart disease, reproductive system impacts including birth defects, damage to a range of organs including the kidneys and liver, and even premature death. Check out a list of fourteen notorious chemicals emanating from refineries below.

The thing about these chemicals leaking out of refineries – you never know if you’re exposed to them, when and how much. Back in 1999, a few visits to Port Arthur, Texas, home of three large refineries, made me wonder about this; each time I left with a sticky residue on the car, a splitting headache and blurred vision. People reported their kids having rashes all the time. This made a little more sense after rooting through a room at the local branch of the Texas environmental agency (TCEQ) filled with cardboard boxes of records for each of the plants documenting refinery upsets, unplanned releases and accidents, seemingly on a weekly basis.  The plants were spewing chemical fumes “by accident” all the time.

Whiting Indiana beach near refinery.jpg

Photo: Whihala Beach – Whiting, Indiana, by David Wilson under Creative Commons licensing.

Despite the stacks of paperwork though, it was still a mystery who was exposed to what and how much.  One thing was for sure though, a quick look through census data showed that the neighborhoods closest to the refineries and chemical plants were 99 percent non-white and the percent of non-whites in communities much farther away was dramatically lower. Where did the plant managers and other execs live?  This situation is sadly not unique to Port Arthur. It plays out in refinery towns across the U.S. creating hotspots of disproportionate pollution and “cancer alleys” in low income communities of color.

Health Impacts Documented in Refinery Fenceline Communities

Community health surveys have long indicated significantly increased illness and health impacts among residents living near refineries and petrochemical complexes. The surveys are validated by the dozens of rigorous peer reviewed studies that have documented community health impacts of pollution from petroleum refineries, finding increased rates of cancer, preterm births, asthma related hospitalizations, and increased mortality in communities around refineries.

  • Cancer: Many studies have found elevated rates of leukemia and lymphomas in residents living close to petrochemical plants.  One major recent study in the industrial heartland of Alberta, Canada, where many refinery/oil upgrading operations are located, found greatly elevated pollutant levels and notably higher rates of leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma compared to neighboring counties.  Scores of other studies have found higher rates of cancer among residents who live closer to refineries (brain, lung, liver, bone, bladder, stomach, kidney and urinary, and other types of cancer).
  • Asthma: Several studies show increased asthma prevalence, emergency room visits for asthma, respiratory symptoms as well as significantly lower lung function among children and residents living close to refineries.
  • Birth Defects: In 2006, the Texas Department of State Health Services found that Corpus Christi, home of “Refinery Row,” had a birth defect rate that was 84 percent higher than the rest of Texas. A follow-up study found that mothers living near refineries and chemical plants had babies with high rates of life-threatening birth defects.
  • Premature Deaths: A recent major study of air pollution related mortalities in the U.S. found that out of over 5,000 cities evaluated, Donaldsonville, Louisiana has the highest mortality rate from air pollution. Nine refineries in the area contribute to the roughly 81 deaths from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer per 100,000 people.

Wilmington Refinery.jpg

Photo: Wilmington Refinery, Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What Can We Do About it?

This spring, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is slated to finalize a new refinery rule that could be a major step in reducing pollution and monitoring for leaks. Please support this rule by telling Congress to protect our environmental policies instead of interfering with them.

However, despite the critical need for this rule, the phase in will take many years even if it does get finalized according to a court-ordered schedule. In the meantime we are calling on local authorities to act swiftly to reign in refinery pollution beginning with a 20 by 2020 pledge in the Bay Area. The good news is that the Bay Area Air District voted on October 15th to adopt a policy to prevent increases in refinery emissions that an influx of dirtier, extreme crude oil could cause; and to plan for a 20 percent emission reduction from all refineries by 2020.

The Bay Area refinery clean up policy goes back to the air district board for further consideration on December 17th, in time to provide a happier holiday for fenceline communities… that is, if the Grinch-like oil industry, claiming that it can’t afford to clean up, doesn’t stop it. The air district needs to hear your support to keep the refinery clean up policy on track.  The massive flaring events last week at the Tesoro refinery turned the sky in Martinez orange, reminding everyone for miles how badly we need refinery clean-up policies.

tesoro flares.jpg

Photo: Martinez Environmental Group

Refinery fenceline communities continue to suffer the ill effects of pollution every day despite ample technology to clean up the mess and a wealthy industry that can surely afford the upgrades.  And we are all fenceline communities when it comes to climate change. Given the stark warning issued earlier this month from the world’s leading scientists in the IPCC report on climate change, noting that we will face “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” if we do not act now, it is high time to reign in the super-polluting refining industry.

14 Notorious Refinery Pollutants

  1. Benzene is a known carcinogen (cancer causing agent), associated with childhood leukemia in particular. High exposures can impact the central nervous system leading to drowsiness, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, nausea, headaches, and depression; reproductive impacts, such as smaller ovaries; and potentially developmental effects such as low birth weight, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage.
  2. Toluene is especially harmful to people with asthma. It poses reproductive hazards and can cause headaches, impaired reasoning, memory loss, nausea, impaired speech, hearing, and vision, and over the long term, damage to the liver and kidneys.
  3. Ethylbenzene is a carcinogen. Chronic, low-level exposure can result in kidney damage and hearing loss.
  4. Xylenes can cause difficulty breathing, damage to the lungs, impaired memory, and possible damage to the liver and kidneys. Long term exposure is associated with multiple impacts to the nervous system, blood cell abnormalities, abnormal heartbeat, liver damage, genetic mutations, reproductive system effects, and death due to respiratory failure.
  5. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of over 100 different tar-like chemicals, some of which are mutagens, carcinogens, and developmental toxicants.  PAHs can cross the placenta and harm an unborn fetus, contributing to fetal mortality, increased cancer risk and birth defects. PAHs are also associated with asthma-related symptoms and developmental and cognitive impairment, including lower IQ.
  6. Hydrogen Cyanide exposure at high levels swiftly harms the brain and heart, beginning with rapid breathing, followed by convulsions, and loss of consciousness, and can even cause coma and death. More commonly, low level exposure is associated with breathing difficulties, chest pain, vomiting, blood changes, headaches, and enlargement of the thyroid gland.
  7. 1,3-butadiene causes inflammation of nasal tissues, changes to lung, heart, and reproductive tissues, neurological effects and blood changes; it is a carcinogen associated with cancers of the blood and lymphatic system, and it may also cause birth defects.
  8. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that can cause asthma or asthma-like symptoms, neurological effects, increased risk of allergies, eczema and changes in lung function.
  9. Arsenic is a carcinogen that poses reproductive and other hazards. In children, in particular, arsenic can cause skin lesions, neurodevelopmental effects like lower IQ, lung disease, and reproductive effects including lower birth weight, spontaneous abortion, and neonatal death.
  10. Chromium (VI) or hexavalent chromium is a carcinogen, primarily affecting the lungs, but also the stomach and intestinal tract. Additional effects include: increased risk of respiratory illness such as pneumonia and bronchitis, gastrointestinal effects including lesions of the stomach and small intestine, hematological effects like anemia, and reproductive effects to males, including lower sperm count and histopathological changes, and complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
  11. Lead is a well-known toxic heavy metal that is particularly hazardous to children, severely impacting development and cognitive functioning, resulting in lower IQ scores, attention deficit problems and other behavioral impacts. Lead exposure is also associated with other neurological, hematological, and immune effects; cancer; cardiovascular and renal effects in adults; and reproductive effects, such as lower sperm counts and spontaneous abortions. There is no safe level of exposure to lead.
  12. Mercuryis a highly neurotoxic contaminant that can bio-accumulate in food such as fish. Health effects of mercury include neurological, developmental, and behavioral problems, such as lower IQ, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and impaired memory and motor skills. Exposure is also associated with cardiovascular effects including increased risks of heart attacks, increased blood pressure, and thickening of arteries.
  13. Nickel is associated with chronic dermatitis, respiratory impacts and potentially also reproductive impacts. Various nickel compounds are carcinogenic and can also have cardiovascular effects in particulate form.
  14. Hydrogen fluoride or Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is a fatal poison that is highly corrosive and can burn skin or lungs on contact, though symptoms of exposure can be delayed for days. Chronic exposure can lead to lung disease and damaged vision. Other health impacts include nausea, vomiting, gastric pain, low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, seizures, fluid build-up in the lungs, lung collapse and ultimately death, particularly in situations of accidental release.

In Albany, one official calls for the recloation of residents of an entire housing project

Repost from Metroland.net, Albany NY

The Price of Oil Trains

As tensions mount over how to address the dangers of crude coming through Albany by rail, one official calls for the recloation of residents of an entire housing project
by Ali Hibbs, July 31, 2014

One year after oil tankers went off the rails and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec—killing 47 people and leaving a community devastated—local political leaders and community members are growing increasingly concerned about a similar tragedy occurring closer to home.  A recent explosion in oil tanker traffic coming into the Port of Albany through South End neighborhoods, and the half-dozen literal explosions that have occurred across the United States and Canada since the Quebec tragedy—not to mention the local oil spill at Kenwood Yard last month—have those living in communities close to the tracks concerned for their health as well as their safety.

Over the last several months, how to best address these mounting concerns has become the cause of some political tension and has resulted in the formation of two separate local investigative bodies. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan announced the creation of her blue-ribbon panel on rail safety last week, following Albany County Executive Dan McCoy’s seemingly sudden declaration that residents of the Ezra Prentice public housing project in Albany’s South End should be immediately relocated to ensure their health and safety.  Ezra Prentice is adjacent to tracks on which oil tank cars travel and are often left sitting, providing an ominous—and malodorous—background to a park in which children play basketball.

photo by Ann Morrow

“Headaches, dizziness, feeling nauseous: These are not uncommon reactions to being exposed to fumes associated with crude oil operations,” said Christopher Amato of EarthJustice during a press conference held this week by McCoy’s advisory committee, announcing the introduction of a hotline that the public can call to report strong odors emanating from rail terminals or the Port of Albany itself—odors, they say, that may signify serious health hazards. Amato and EarthJustice represent the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and the Center for Biological Diversity in challenging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to require an environmental impact statement before any expansion of activities by oil companies at the port.

Anne Pope, a South End resident, regional director of the NAACP and a lifelong asthmatic, also spoke of the dangers of fumes produced by crude oil. She extolled McCoy for being proactive and went on to advocate for the evacuation of Ezra Prentice if there was nothing else that could be done to remove threats posed by the nearby trains.

McCoy began actively working to stanch the flow of oil into the Port of Albany earlier this year when he imposed a moratorium on the expansion of crude-oil processing until a comprehensive study on the health and safety effects on the community could be completed. After being told that his moratorium was “prejudicial to the [oil] company,” and had “no legal basis,” McCoy convened his Expert Advisory Committee on Crude Oil Safety in May, stating, “It’s clear that the scope of this investigation requires that we bring in independent experts to help us.”

During the last two years, the Port of Albany has experienced a dramatic surge in rail-borne crude oil carried by CSX and Canadian Pacific Railway Co. from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. At Albany, a purported 85,000 barrels of the oil-sands crude are loaded each day onto barges bound for refineries in New Jersey and New Brunswick by oil distribution companies such as Global Partners LP.  As Metroland reported last month, these developments came largely unbeknownst to anyone in the local community or government, save one—former Mayor Jerry Jennings. (As previously reported: In 2012, the DEC approved a permit allowing Global Partners to bring up to 1.8 billion gallons of crude oil into the Port of Albany annually and, according to documents pertaining to the approvals, Jennings was the only local politician who was notified—and he apparently didn’t bother to notify the public.)

Global Partners is currently seeking permission from New York State to expand its local role even further by installing a boiler system that would allow the company to import a heavier type of Bakken crude and heat it before shipping it back out of the region. This process brings with it even more concerns about possible deleterious effects on local air quality and environmental safety.

Until recently, Sheehan had insisted that the costs for safety measures, including air monitoring and environmental impact studies, should be covered by the oil and rail companies that are benefiting from expanded use of the port. In a statement responding to McCoy’s call for the removal of Ezra Prentice residents, she reiterated her stance and essentially deferred the issue of rail safety to state and federal government.

That, however, clearly is not enough for those currently living next door to the oil-laden tracks.

“I don’t know how many warnings we’re going to get,” said Charlene Benton, president of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association and resident of the community. “We have 156 children under the age of 16. . . . We have to do something.” Benton applauded the efforts of McCoy and others, but went on to say, “I don’t think we’ve done enough. . . . It’s time for us to begin to come together and come up with some resolutions.”

“I disagree that those living in the shadow of bomb trains should wait for federal action to create safer standards for rail transportation of crude oil,” wrote McCoy in response to Sheehan after she implied that his recommendation was rash and unwarranted. “Experts acknowledge that even if federal action were taken immediately ordering improved standards, it would take years for new oil tanker cars to come online.” (Fact: Recently proposed federal regulations would not force the total retirement of outdated, easily punctured DOT-111 tank cars like those involved in the Quebec incident until 2020.) “The people of Ezra Prentice live every day with the danger of these cars literally in their backyard. That is why I’m asking for the Albany Housing Authority to explore seeking federal assistance to relocate these residents now.”

In addition to the moratorium and push to explore options to evacuate Ezra Prentice—a move that many decried as premature, alarmist and overreaching—the office of the county executive also recently introduced legislation imposing harsher penalties on those who do not report oil spills within an hour of their occurrence. This was in response to the oil spill at Kenwood Yard last month, when workers neglected to notify authorities for five hours after four cars derailed. His advisory committee, headed by Peter Iwanowicz, executive director for Environmental Advocates of New York, has been working closely with concerned local politicians and residents to mitigate concerns and seek out answers.  The launch this Wednesday of the public reporting hotline (“Uncommon Scents”) is intended to help “an overall assessment of possible health and environmental impacts of the rail activities in the county,” according to Iwanowicz.

While Sheehan believes that McCoy has overstepped some boundaries when it comes to this issue, she also seems to have realized the importance that it holds for the community—and that waiting for the state or federal government to step in is unlikely to satisfy those who are living (and sleeping) with the daily reality of Bakken crude in their backyards. She released the names of those who will sit on her blue-ribbon panel this week, and has said that she anticipates they will have come up with long- and short-term recommendations for assuring rail safety by early September.

For anyone living near crude-carrying rail lines: Should you or any of your family members detect any new, unusually strong or disturbing odors in your area, the hotline number to call is 211.  Iwanowicz stresses, however, that if you believe you are in immediate danger, you should call 911 directly.

Global Community Monitor: Deisel fumes near rail yards a proven health threat

Repost from The Kansas City Star
[Editor: Has anyone monitored the diesel fumes in and around Benicia’s Industrial Park?  How much more diesel would be burnt by the daily movement of engines hauling 100 tank cars into and back out of the refinery?  – RS]

Diesel fumes near Kansas City, Kan., rail yard pose health threat, report says

By Alan Bavley, 07/14/2014
Leticia DeCaigny, a community organizer with Global Community Monitor, set up a MiniVon air analyzer to monitor for diesel fumes and particulates near the BNSF’s rail yard in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. Preliminary test results reveal levels of diesel exhaust high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or raise the death rate among residents.
Leticia DeCaigny, a community organizer with Global Community Monitor, set up a MiniVon air analyzer to monitor for diesel fumes and particulates near the BNSF’s rail yard in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. Preliminary test results reveal levels of diesel exhaust high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or raise the death rate among residents. David Eulitt/The Kansas City Star

Leticia DeCaigny straps a portable air-sampling device to the side of a neighbor’s deck. For two days, the small gray box with what looks like a chimney on top will gather evidence of pollution from diesel engines.

“It’s like a human lung,” sucking in air as a person would breathe, DeCaigny says as she pushes some buttons that set the device whirring.

Just a few blocks away is the BNSF Railway’s vast Argentine rail yard, where switch engines move hundreds of freight cars to assemble trains headed for destinations across the country.

For generations, the yard has been the lifeblood of this economically challenged Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood, providing jobs and attracting industry. The trains rolling by make a constant, even reassuring sound.

But DeCaigny knows neighbors who regularly smell the diesel exhaust from the locomotives and the trucks that pick up and drop off cargo. She knows neighbors who can’t go outside for long without risking an asthma attack.

And she knows about the growing body of research that links diesel exhaust to a host of health problems —lung diseases, cancer, heart attacks and premature births.

So, with the help of a national environmental organization, DeCaigny has been taking this monitor from house to house for the past eight months to gather air samples in Argentine and the adjacent Turner neighborhood, where she lives and which also borders the rail yard.

The preliminary results from November through mid-June reveal what the environmentalists she is working with consider to be unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, levels high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or to raise the death rate among residents.

They will discuss their findings at a neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the South Branch Library, 3104 Strong Ave.

BNSF officials, who have reviewed the environmentalists’ preliminary report, said it is too short on essential details about how the data were collected to judge its validity. But they said the kind of short-term sampling that was done isn’t enough to establish trends. A single “uncommon event” could throw off the readings coming from any of the sites where the monitor was placed.

Other factors, such as the weather and two busy highways — Interstate 635, which runs through the rail yard, and Interstate 70 to its north — also could affect the numbers, they said.

But Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor, which provided DeCaigny the air monitor, said air sampled at seven of the 16 sites where DeCaigny placed the monitor contained diesel pollution at unhealthy levels, enough to indicate a disturbing pattern.

“It’s starting to show it’s a regular occurrence that the diesel is creating a health threat,” he said. “There are days in Argentine and Turner when it’s really unhealthy to breathe the air, and people should know that.”

With international trade booming, environmentalists are focusing greater attention on the diesel pollution from ports and intermodal hubs, where cargo is transferred. Containerized shipping, using standardized metal boxes, makes it easy to move cargo from ship’s hold to a freight train or tractor-trailer, all powered by diesel engines.

Global Community Monitor, a nonprofit environmental justice organization, also is working with environmental groups to monitor air quality in Galena Park, Texas, which receives much of the truck traffic from the Port of Houston, and in the large Gulf port of Plaquemines Parish, La.

Environmentally conscious California, where most cargo from Asia arrives, has been in the forefront of research and regulation of diesel exhaust at its ports.

“We get all the pollution with no real direct benefit to the community,” said Andrea Hricko of the University of Southern California’s Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center.

Hricko’s research has found that in California counties with major rail yards, nearby residents are more likely to be people of color, and with low incomes.

“There are already health disparities with income, but this adds an environmental factor,” Hricko said.

Of great concern to environmentalists are the very small particles that circulate in the air. The particles can come from dust, smoke from a fire or exhaust from a tailpipe. Once inhaled, they can stay trapped in the lungs and affect the heart, blood vessels and lungs.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has air-quality regulations for particles 2.5 microns or smaller in width. Such particles are invisible to the naked eye, less than one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

The entire state of Kansas, including Wyandotte County and the Argentine rail yard, meets EPA standards for this kind of pollution.

The closest air-quality monitoring station to the Argentine rail yard is at the John F. Kennedy Community Center, a few miles to the north.

For more than six years, there’s been “a steady, steady drop” in particulate pollution from that site, said Tom Gross, the air monitoring and planning chief of the Kansas Bureau of Air, which does the monitoring for the EPA. “We view that as good news.”

Larson, of Global Community Monitor, said, “We agree with the state of Kansas and everybody else that if you look just at 2.5-micron particulates, there’s not a problem.”

But there is no regular federal monitoring of air pollution from the soot particles, called black or elemental carbon, that are commonly associated with diesel exhaust. DeCaigney’s monitor is designed to pick up this kind of pollution.

Unlike other fine particles that disperse over large areas, elemental carbon tends to stay close to where it is produced. So high readings are most likely along roads with heavy truck traffic or in the immediate vicinity of a rail yard.

Larson’s group employed an environmental scientist to make calculations from data in two recent academic studies to come up with threshold levels for what should be considered unhealthy levels of diesel pollution. One study linked high levels of diesel exhaust to increased hospitalizations for heart and lung problems among people ages 65 and older. The other study found that death rates among all ages were higher two or three days after a spike in diesel pollution.

“When those levels reach these thresholds, there’s an immediate risk,” Larson said. “It’s from short-term exposure.”

David Bryan of the EPA’s regional office for Kansas City said his agency has spoken to Larson about the monitoring underway. “We’d be interested in seeing his organization’s results.”

Driving through Argentine, DeCaigny points out Clopper Field, a public park right by the tracks that on weekends is packed with soccer players. Nearby, overlooking the rail yard, is a high rise for seniors. “They’re right on top of it,” she said.

She drives west into Turner, up to a health clinic and a community garden and orchard, and then circles past Turner High School, all close by the rail yard.

DeCaigny’s 8-year-old son died of brain cancer two years ago. She is particularly sensitive to environmental health issues.

“Knowing that some of the results are serious, this is something that needs to be known by the community,” she said.

BNSF said it has been making changes at the Argentine yard that reduce diesel exhaust. For example, switch engines are being used that turn off their main power while idling. And the rail yard’s intermodal facility is being phased out this year as BNSF moves those operations to its new Logistics Park in Edgerton. That’s taking a half-dozen diesel cranes out of service in Argentine.

But Larson said that’s not enough. He wants BNSF to fund a larger air-quality study by the EPA at the Argentine rail yard to see what further steps may be needed to reduce diesel pollution.

“It’s very laudable to bring in a new engine, but if you want to see if your measures are effective, you need to take measurements,” he said. “They’re on the right track, no pun intended. We need to make sure they keep moving ahead.”

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article727874.html#storylink=cpy