The previously unreported benzene data, posted online by EPA last week, raises fresh questions about what the private equity-owned company and regulators are doing to protect people who live near the
The site's emissions average is calculated from EPA-required benzene readings taken every two weeks at passive air monitors placed around the perimeter of the refinery and released to the public quarterly. Nine of those readings in the last quarter topped
Two of those high measurements, taken from monitors near the Southeast corner of the refinery, were "related to fugitives during benzene tanks de-inventory operations," PES told EPA. "De-inventory is part of shut down of [refinery] processing operations."
"There is a legacy -- a tail after industrial activities have ended -- where there still is pollution that gets into the air from either the stuff that's left over or the water and land that have been contaminated," he said.
The 1,300-acre site has been used for oil storage since the 1870s. But with its location 3 miles from downtown
The shuttered refinery's ongoing benzene problems, DeCarlo added, also raise questions about the commitment to safety by PES, a company created by the
"My impression is that they were in it to make money, make it quickly and then get out," he said of Carlyle, which is now a minority investor in PES. "If they're not interested in doing proper remediation, that would be in line with that assessment of their financial motivation."
PES didn't respond to a request for comment. Bardin Hill declined to comment, and Carlyle declined to comment on the record.
Earlier this year, a watchdog group's analysis of benzene data from every refinery in
Chronic exposure to even low levels of benzene is linked to an increase in cancers, especially leukemia. High short-term exposure to the chemical -- a component of crude oil and refined gasoline -- can interfere with the formation of red blood cells and harm people's immune systems.
EPA began requiring refineries to monitor benzene in 2018 because the carcinogen is present in nearly every stage of the refining process and serves as an indicator chemical for leaks of other hazardous air pollutants.
PES has been reporting benzene emissions to EPA and the city of
"It's one thing to have an excursion for one day that then goes away," she said. "But here, in one location, you have excursions over a several month period. The community deserved to know that."
In statements provided to
Local environmental activists say that isn't happening.
"We don't have information that explains to us why" the benzene levels are still so high, said
"There's a lot of open questions as to how exactly we're going to remediate all of the oil byproducts and the hydrocarbons that have been dispersed into the soils over 150 years of oil refining," he said. "How is all that going to be cleaned up in a way that's safe for this community?"