HOUSTON, TX—On March 2, NELC at- torneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Environment Texas and Sierra Club against Pasadena Refining System, Inc. (PRSI) for thousands of violations of the federal Clean Air Act at its Pasadena, Texas, refinery. The suit alleges PRSI has illegally emitted particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other air pollutants in amounts that greatly exceed hourly and/ or annual pollution limits.
More than 75,000 people reside within a three-mile radius of the Houston-area refinery, along with at least eight schools, a Headstart program, and several day- care centers. PRSI is owned by the state- controlled oil company of Brazil, Petróleo Brasileiro S.A., or Petrobras. Petrobras’ purchase of the Pasadena refinery ten years ago has been linked to a bribery and kickbacks scandal known as “Operation Car Wash,” the largest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil.
“Design flaws, equipment failures, opera- tor errors, and startup/shutdown events at the Pasadena refinery resulted in 70,129 pounds of unauthorized releases of particulate matter in 2016 alone, making it the worst in Texas for this type of illegal pollution,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. Particulate matter is a mix of microscopic particles and liquid droplets, including acids, organic compounds, and metals, and is linked to increased emergency room and hospital visits, decreased life expectancy, and increase in aggravated asthma and respiratory problems.
This lawsuit is the fourth case NELC has filed on behalf of Environment Texas and Sierra Club since 2008 to confront illegal air emissions arising from oil refineries and petrochemical facilities along the Houston Ship Channel.
In a positive development, PRSI officials have already met with NELC attorneys and our consulting engineer to begin discussing whether the problems identified above can be addressed without lengthy litigation. “Resolution of this case will require PRSI to make a major new commitment to environmental compliance,” said
NELC Senior Attorney Josh Kratka. The lawsuit also alleges the Pasadena Refinery violated limits on nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide from its industrial boilers for thousands of hours since 2011, and exceeded limits on sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds (vOCs) dur- ing upset events. NOx, vOCs, and carbon monoxide contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a serious problem in the Houston area, while sulfur dioxide contributes to respiratory illness and ag- gravates existing heart and lung diseases.