The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it has reached a settlement with the Valero oil refinery in Benicia, Calif., over its illegal dumping of benzene-contaminated wastewater into an unlined retention pond and other shoddy practices that threaten the environment and human health.
Under the agreement, Valero will pay a fine of just $157,800. More importantly, the oil company is required to make infrastructural upgrades to prevent toxic releases and shore up its paperwork proving to the government that it’s in compliance with federal regulations.
In May 2014, the EPA inspected Valero’s massive Benicia facility, which occupies about 900 acres in Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco. Inspectors documented 14 incidences in which excessive amounts of toxic benzene were illegally dumped in an unlined retention pond from 2011 to 2013.
Benzene is an organic chemical compound that is widely used in a number of manufacturing industries. The clear liquid evaporates quickly and is most often inhaled. Once in the body, the chemical affects the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells, thereby promoting the development of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and other life-threatening diseases such as Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas, and Aplastic Anemia.
“As the hazardous waste level of benzene wastewater was released into the unlined pond, which is located adjacent to the Suisun Bay, there is greater potential of release of benzene into the groundwater and nearby surface water,” EPA spokeswoman Michele Huitric told The (East Bay) Pioneer.
Benzene can also accumulate in the bodies of birds and other wildlife, potentially sickening and shortening their lifespan.
EPA officials also found Valero failed to alert the public about toxic chemical releases, failed to test solid wastes for toxicity, failed to operate in a way that would minimize the risk of accidental chemical releases, and failed to maintain accurate records, Ms. Huitric told The Pioneer.
In addition to the fine, the agreement requires Valero to make some piping modifications and submit a plan for a new piping system by the end of the year. The new system must be completed by June 2017. Valero must also correct and resubmit its toxic chemical reports to the EPA and provide data that demonstrates no benzene is entering the retaining pond. The plan is expected to prevent about two and a half tons of benzene from being released into the environment over the next 10 years.
Source: The Pioneer