Houston, TX—On Dec. 13, NELC attorneys filed suit in federal district court against ExxonMobil Corporation and two subsidiaries for thousands of violations of the Clean Air Act at the nation’s largest oil refinery, which is housed with two chemical plants at the company’s 3,400-acre industrial complex in Baytown, Texas. This lawsuit, following on the heels of settlements with Shell Oil and Chevron Phillips, is NELC’s third case on behalf of Environment Texas and Sierra Club targeting illegal air emissions from air pollution “upsets” at petrochemical plants in the Houston area.
The lawsuit alleges that equipment breakdowns, malfunctions, leaks, and other “non-routine” incidents at the ExxonMobil complex have resulted in the unlawful release of more than eight million pounds of pollutants since 2005, including benzene and 1,3-butadiene, known carcinogens, and hydrogen chloride, a severe respiratory irritant. As with the Shell and Chevron Phillips suits, the ExxonMobil complaint alleges that these upsets are persistent and ongoing, and that they stem from a series of systemic problems that the company must address if the violations are to be minimized or eliminated.
ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery and chemical plant complex is located on the Houston Ship Channel about 25 miles east of downtown Houston. Tens of thousands of people live within three miles of the complex. Nearby residents have complained of chest congestion, coughing, fatigue, headaches, and itching eyes as a result of ExxonMobil’s air emissions. Others report noxious odors, and note that physical vibrations from some of the plant upsets can be felt at their homes.
At a press conference in Baytown to announce the lawsuit, Sierra Club member Sharon Sprayberry, who lives near the plant, stated her position clearly: “All that I ask is that this refinery, which certainly has the means to do so, clean up its act.”