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Two local refineries among top 10 in benzene output

Flint Hills
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Posted at 5:02 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 19:49:01-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Two of our local refineries are among the nation's worst when it comes to releasing a cancer-causing chemical.

The Washington, D.C-based Environmental Integrity Project analyzed public monitoring data from refineries going back to 2018. What they found is that both the Flint Hills and Valero refineries on Refinery Row are in the top 10 for levels of benzene released into the air, which raised concerns with local environmental groups.

Environmental Protection Agency regulations say refineries shouldn't average more than nine micrograms (MCG) of benzene per cubic meter (M3). The EIP says Valero's averages 13 MCG/M3, 44% above that limit, while Flint Hills averages 16.1 MCG/M3, or 79% above.

“To be honest with you, I wasn't surprised,” said Suzie Canales. “It's been going on for many years, as long as we've been doing this.”

Canales founded Citizens for Environmental Justice two decades ago after her sister died of breast cancer linked to refineries. Since then, she's fought to educate the public about long-term health risks for people living near refineries.

“When people inhale this benzene day after day, they're not going to drop dead on the spot,” said Canales.

Benzene exposure has been linked to serious health problems.

“Benzene is known as a carcinogen,” said Dante Gonzalez, assistant director of the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District. “If there's too much in the air, it could pose some sort of health risk.”

Flint Hills disputes the study’s findings. In a statement the company says “Corpus Christi maintains an extensive network of ambient air monitors that indicate benzene levels are much lower than this report would suggest and well within public health standards,”

However, Canales says those monitors are part of the problem.

“The public has been, in my opinion, deceived and the air monitors are used against the community that lives there,” said Canales.

Data from the monitors is averaged, which Canales says deceives the public even more.

“If you average anything, you're going to bring your numbers down,” said Canales.

Despite the study’s findings, local health officials warn that it's tough to tell exactly what effect the refineries have in our benzene levels.

“Benzene is one of those chemicals that's used in a lot of different things that we use on a daily basis,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez says benzene can be found in gasoline or cigarette smoke. Meanwhile, Canales wants tougher emissions standards for refineries. She also wants oil companies to pay to relocate people living too close to refineries.