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Feds sue Southern Illinois refinery for leaking hazardous chemicals into air

A Roxana refinery will have to make $10.8 million in changes after settling a lawsuit on Aug. 10 that accused it of releasing excessive amounts of hazardous pollutants into the area.

The suit alleged the Wood River refinery has leaking valves and pumps that caused excess emissions of dangerous chemicals.

In large amounts, some of the compounds released by the refinery can reduce lung function and irritate the human respiratory system, according to the suit.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan collectively filed the lawsuit against Wood River Refinery in Roxana. The suit alleged that changes in the refinery’s operations in 2009 caused more than a dozen violations of the Clean Air Act.

A Department of Justice spokesman confirmed the details of the suit but declined to comment further on the matter.

The refinery, owned by Phillips 66 and Cenovus Energy and operated by WRB Refining LP, processes various oils and lies on the bank of the Mississippi River.

A spokesman for the refinery said Phillips 66 does not comment on legal matters.

According to the 2018 suit, unauthorized changes at the refinery led to significant increases in emissions of:

  • sulfur dioxide

  • hydrogen sulfide

  • volatile organic compounds

  • carbon monoxide

The lawsuit includes documents from a 2014 inspection that reportedly revealed hydrocarbon emissions escaping from three vents and 17 seams on the roof. Part of the vents were deteriorated and the seams were not monitored.

Benzene, a chemical that is a natural part of oil and gasoline smoke and also found in volcanoes and forest fires, was reportedly leaking from 14 locations on-site, according to a follow-up inspection in 2014 included in the lawsuit.

The refinery was fined $475,000 for the violations. According to the settlement, the refinery will make $10.8 million worth of changes to the facility to comply with federal and state standards.

The consent decree, or settlement, also requires the refinery to implement a $500,000 project to decrease lead paint hazards at certain homes and buildings.

The decree will go into effect on September 2 following a public comment period, given the Department of Justice does not find basis to withdraw the consent based on those public comments.

In 2017, the refinery reached a settlement in a separate case in which 183 properties claimed they were polluted by underground chemicals released from the facility.

In October 2016, the refinery reached another settlement over allegations it was releasing mercury, fecal matter, ammonia and other byproducts into the Mississippi River, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6
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