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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

BP Texas Refinery Had Huge Toxic Release Just Before Gulf Blowout

Texas BP Refinery Released 538,000 Pounds of Chemicals Into Atmosphere

by Ryan Knutson
ProPublica, July 2, 10:30 p.m.

This story is part of an ongoing collaboration between ProPublica and FRONTLINE (PBS).

TEXAS CITY, TEXAS -- Two weeks before the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the huge, trouble-plagued BP refinery in this coastal town spewed tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies.

If you work for BP or a contractor on a rig in the Gulf, or anywhere else, we'd like to hear from you. Tell us about your work conditions, your management, and your observations of what is happening. We will not publish your identity. Call 917-512-0254, fax documents to 212-514-5250 or e-mail Abrahm Lustgarten.

The release from the BP facility here began April 6 and lasted 40 days. It stemmed from the company's decision to keep producing and selling gasoline while it attempted repairs on a key piece of equipment, according to BP officials and Texas regulators.

BP says it failed to detect the extent of the emissions for several weeks. It discovered the scope of the problem only after analyzing data from a monitor that measures emissions from a flare 300 feet above the ground that was supposed to incinerate the toxic chemicals.

The company now estimates that 538,000 pounds of chemicals escaped from the refinery while it was replacing the equipment. These included 17,000 pounds of benzene, a known carcinogen; 37,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to respiratory problems; and 186,000 pounds of carbon monoxide.

It is unclear whether the pollutants harmed the health of Texas City residents, but the amount of chemicals far exceeds the limits set by Texas and other states.

For years, the BP refinery in this town of 44,000 has been among the company's most dangerous and pollution-prone operations. A 2005 explosion killed 15 workers; four more workers have died in accidents since then. Last year, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company $87 million for failing to address safety problems that caused the 2005 blast.

http://bit.ly/cQqRJ3

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