FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 27, 2009
Dr. Neil Carman, PhD. Sierra Club 512-663-9594
Suzie Canales 361-334-6764
CITGO Endangered Community
with Toxic Release
July 19-20, 2009 in Corpus Christi, Texas
Citizens for Environmental Justice and
Sierra Club: CITGO had largest release of
Hydrogen Fluoride in 20 years due to plant fire
Corpus Christi, Texas -- Sierra Club (SC) and Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ) sent a letter to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board stating that CITGO’s East refinery fire in the alkylation unit on July 19-20, 2009 resulted in the single largest toxic release of deadly hydrogen fluoride in over twenty years at the plant.
CITGO submitted a final report August 13, 2009 to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) estimating that nearly
4,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride had been released over several days, and this quantity is the largest release of the deadly chemical by CITGO since 1988 records show.
The large release of 4,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride reveals that CITGO endangered the health and welfare of the EJ community members living near the East refinery by not maintaining its plant in a safe manner in view of its use of such a dangerous catalyst, and that CITGO compounded the threat of toxic vapors of hydrogen fluoride from the fire by failing to inform residents of an option to evacuate since they could be in danger if the winds shifted.
Local environmental justice community members near
CITGO expressed serious concerns about toxic air pollution
from the fire, including several individuals who indicated
they suffered adverse health effects. But the local
environmental justice community had no option to leave
because they were never informed of the dangerous
fire at CITGO or that potentially deadly gases had
CITGO and other refineries have so many upsets and smoking pollution episodes that residents have become used to seeing frequent problems at the plants not knowing how dangerous a fire such as CITGO’s July incident can be if they are not informed by the refinery or officials. Much like CITGO, the TCEQ made no efforts to ask if local environmental justice community members suffered adverse health effects due to the fire, and TCEQ simply assumed no one was harmed since they did not call in complaints. Citizens had to rely solely on the media to learn how dangerous the fire was.
“For a fire to have gone on for 2 days, I feel that they (LEPC/CITGO/TCEQ) should have come out to the community to talk to us, to inform us of what’s
going on,” said Jean Salone, a Hillcrest resident and member of CFEJ. “Neighbors I’ve talked to have had sore throats and headaches. Even dizziness. Some have told me about red residue outside after seeing a red cloud on Monday and others have some white specks on outdoor things. It’s awful that no one has come out to see how we’re
The Sierra Club/Citizens for Environmental Justice letter describes serious public health concerns over CITGO’s egregious failure to notify and evacuate the nearby community as well as attempting to downplay fence-line community impacts of its toxic refinery pollution, in particular hydrofluoric acid.
“CITGO had the largest release of hydrogen fluoride
since 1988, and indicates the hazards facing local EJ community
members living in Corpus Christi near the highest concentration
of oil refineries in the U.S. using hydrogen fluoride (hydrofluoric
acid or HF), an extremely dangerous chemical as a catalyst
in alkylation units, a chemical posing the single worst-case
accidental release scenario in plants using it and makes
it more hazardous for citizens living on refinery row,” said
Dr. Neil Carman, chemist and Clean Air Program director for
Sierra Club. “On July 19-20, CITGO initially falsely
reported the HF release as “hydrogen sulfide (H2S)” rather
than HF apparently in an attempt to deceive the public about
the deadly nature of the fire reporting H2S emissions, and,
in my opinion, CITGO was not concerned about local environmental
justice community members by filing a false report with TCEQ.
Yet CITGO’s final fire report did not list H2S since there
was none involved in the July fire, which CITGO knew. Finally,
CITGO has failed to report fugitive releases of HF to the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)for the last twenty-years,
except for serious fires and accidents, and may be fudging
as badly as it did with benzene tank releases it was criminally
convicted of under the federal Clean Air Act.”
The letter to U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman John Bresland cites concerns over CITGO’s irresponsible actions that the groups seek to address:
“CITGO responded to this serious event in typical fashion, they attempted to minimize this event to the local community,” said Suzie Canales, Executive Director of Citizens for Environmental Justice. “This event supports our position for the need of a buffer zone - to relocate, at a fair price, the people that want to move. It is too dangerous to live adjacent to CITGO, a repeat offender
and convicted criminal.”
“We are asking for a thorough investigation by the Chemical Safety Board of the serious event July 19-20. We are concerned that negligence on behalf of CITGO led to the serious injury to the employee and put a whole community in needless risk.” added Canales.
CITGO East Refinery in Corpus Christi reported from 1988-2007
three airborne releases of hydrogen fluoride in 1996 of 221
pounds, the May 1997 fire at 1,698 pounds, and 2001 when
29 pounds escaped into the air. (US EPA Toxic Release Inventory: http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer)
The three older reports total 1949 pounds (221 + 1698 + 29).
Thus, the July 19-20, 2009 fire released more than twice
as much HF into Corpus Christi as all previous air releases
since 1988, according to reports filed by CITGO.