This past Wednesday, January 11, at close to the noon hour, Western Refinery sustained a release of what has been identified as sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere near the Lakeside, Ascarate and Bassett neighborhood areas.
According to ABC-7’s reporting of the incident, the event started at 11:43 a.m. and ended at 7:43 p.m. that night. That’s almost 8 hours of potentially toxic chemical release.
During that time, it has been estimated that more than 2,000 pounds of the chemical gas was released into the area and surrounding neighborhoods.
Here is how OSHA explains the potential health effects of Sulfur Dioxide:
Emergency Overview: Colourless gas. Suffocating odour (residents mentioned a “rotten egg” smell which is typical). VERY TOXIC. Fatal if inhaled (in direct quantities I imagine). Corrosive to the respiratory tract. A severe, short-term exposure may cause long-term respiratory effects (e.g., Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS)). CORROSIVE. Causes severe skin burns and eye damage. May cause frostbite. SUSPECT MUTAGEN. Suspected of causing genetic defects.”
Fellow El Pasoans, this is not a Western Refinery incident that we should brush off. Considering the serious health implications to the people in the surrounding Lakeside, Ascarate and Bassett neighborhoods, it seems to be getting scant attention by the media and is being downplayed by Western Refining.
No surprise there.
Paul Foster is in the process of selling Western Refining to Tesoro Corporation of San Antonio and the last thing he needs is a local chemical disaster that people are paying attention to.
You are wondering why I have included Emma Acosta and Jim Tolbert as part of my post.
It’s simple, as community leaders via City Council, these two in particular should be leading the charge to get to the bottom of the incident and raise awareness among the neighborhoods that may possibly have been exposed on Wednesday and possibly affected healthwise in the future.
Emma Acosta represents El Pasoans who live in District 3, the area affected by this environmental incident.
I don’t believe I’ve heard a solitary word from her, let alone a public statement regarding this potentially dangerous situation her consituency has been subjected to. It’s her duty to research the situation and reassure the neighborhood that she is on it, not taking the word of Western Refining that there is nothing to worry about.
What about Jim Tolbert, after all these neighborhoods aren’t in his district. Why should he be involved?
Tolbert has positioned himself as an environmental activist, part of the platform he ran his campaign on less than a year ago.
Environmental activism goes way beyond preserving mountains and protecting them from real estate developers.
It represents the people, the vulnerable and powerless in this case, when potential catastrophes occur, such as this “emissions incident” at Western Refining that released over 2,000 pounds of toxic sulfur dioxide over an 8-hour span on Wednesday.
That qualifies as something that an environmental activist such as Jim Tolbert should be pouncing all over.
We are again looking at two different sides of El Paso.
On one side we have families living in some of America’s poorest zip codes within walking distance of a massive oil refinery. These are people that often don’t have a voice and just take the word of their corporate neighbor when told everything is A-OK.
Where is their representation?
I’m hoping this post will inspire people to take action when City Leaders fail us.
On the other side we have a mega-petroleum corporation in the process of being sold for $6,400,000,000 that has powerful influence over decision-makers and politicians in El Paso.
You can be sure that Western Refining contributes to several politicians on local, state and national levels.
Gary Hanson, VP of Corporate Communications at Western Refining, sent ABC-7 a statement which in part read,
“Based on tests we ran and monitored, and the wind velocity, and the track everything took, we feel that there shouldn't be any problems. We wouldn't want to put anyone into danger. We have had people walking and driving the neighborhoods to talk with neighborhood residents to find out if there is anything out of the norm.”
Trust me, don’t believe everything you hear coming from the VP of Corporate Communications at Western Refining. He is just doing his job. Damage control.
Putting a spin on what could be and should be a public relations disaster for their environmental disaster that they are downplaying.
Here is more from the ABC-7 report:
The report further states Western Refining has a permit (No. 18897) to release .01 pounds per hour of sulfur dioxide at "Source 4." An estimated 1,957 pounds of Sulfur Dioxide were released during the incident, the report states.
What does that tell us?
The way I understand it is as follows:
Source 4 is a location that is allowed by permit to release 1/100 of a pound of sulfur dioxide per hour.
Source 4 of the Western Refining incident released 1,957 pounds of sulfur dioxide in an 8 hour span.
That’s 244 and a half pounds of the toxin per hour released into the atmosphere EVERY HOUR.
My guess is that there was much more released on the front end of the incident, with it gradually decreasing toward the end, which makes the situation even worse.
Things are happening in El Paso that we all need to be aware of.
Don’t take ANYTHING for granted.
Educate yourself. Have an opinion. Vote. Sign a petition.
Let’s take care of each other.
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