BP permit hearing delayed
June 3, 2009
By Gitte Laasby
Post-Tribune staff writer
For nearly six years, BP's Whiting refinery emitted cancer-causing
benzene at its wastewater treatment plant without proper air pollution
control equipment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection
BP says there's no evidence that humans or the
environment were harmed, but the company could face a penalty of up to
$37,500 per day for the violations, which took place between 2003 and
The EPA announced Tuesday that it took the first step in enforcing against BP by issuing a notice of violation on May 18.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, BP is required to properly manage
and treat benzene waste from its wastewater treatment plant. But not
all emissions from the waste were controlled as required. In 2008, BP
totaled just over 100 tons of benzene waste -- nearly 16 times the
amount allowed, according to the EPA. Similar violations took place
between 2003 and 2008.
Benzene is known to cause cancer including leukemia in humans. Acute
health effects from benzene exposure can include dizziness and
lightheadedness; eye, nose and throat irritation; upset stomach and
vomiting; irregular heartbeat; convulsions and death, according to the
EPA. Animals, birds and fish who are exposed can die.
EPA found out about the violations when BP self-disclosed them in a
required annual report for 2008 submitted on Feb. 10 this year. BP
spokesman Scott Dean said BP discovered the problem when a third party
audited the treatment plant in 2008 as part of an effort to improve
"When we were doing an audit, an inspection of the air saturation drums, we saw parts that were not enclosed," Dean said.
The air floatation unit, where water is treated, contains seven
boxes. Six of them are covered to limit air pollution as required, he
said. The last box contained no cover because the box was not designed
to treat benzene and BP didn't expect to find benzene in the waste, he
said. Benzene turned out to be in the water anyway.
"We determined that the air emissions of benzene would have been
less than 21 pounds per day between Jan. 21, 2003, and Sept. 29, 2008,"
EPA estimates about 95 metric tons of benzene were in the water over
the course of a year, but Dean said BP estimates air emissions were
closer to 15 tons.
Dean said BP took the box out of service as soon as the emissions
were discovered, and that the company hasn't heard any complaints about
illnesses. He said the uncontrolled emissions did not result in serious
harm to human health or the environment.
"There's no evidence of anything," he said.
Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokesman Rob Elstro
could not immediately say why the illegal emissions were not discovered
during IDEM's routine inspections of the facility.
George Czerniak, chief of air enforcement branch with the EPA Region 5, said EPA plans to meet with BP.
EPA may issue a compliance order, assess an administrative penalty
or bring suit against BP in federal court. BP has 30 days from receipt
of the notice to meet with EPA to discuss resolving the allegations.
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