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Refineries

Southwest Detroit's Marathon Oil Refinery.

On April 27, 2013, thick, black smoke rose high above southwest Detroit from the flames at a nearby industrial facility. Three thousand residents were then ordered to leave their homes and evacuate the area. These residents are no stranger to poor air quality as their neighbors include a coal-fired power plant, a car factory, a water waste management plant, and the Marathon Ashland Petroleum oil refinery, one of 150 oil refineries in the country.

Chrisangel Nieto, 3, rides his tricycle in Hartman Park, the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, Texas.

The EPA held a second public hearing Tuesday in Houston, regarding its proposed rule on oil refinery emissions—and the testimony was dramatic from people living near the refineries who suffer from exposure to those emissions. Testimony ranged from bipartisan congressmen and industry representatives to environmental organizations and fenceline community members from Texas, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

Jesse Marquez of the Coalition for a Safe Environment (third from left) shows EPA staffers and others a Wilmington oil refinery, shortly before the public hearing.

On a sunny Wednesday in Wilmington, California, this week, instead of spending the day at work or taking their kids to the beach, community members gathered to tell the Environmental Protection Agency what it is like living near large oil refineries. The stories kept pouring in; children who were too sick to be allowed outside, explosions that send neighbors scurrying to safety, a pre-school teacher explaining how she has to evacuate her kids when the odors get too strong, and parents who can’t afford the medicine their kids need.

Flaring at a oil refinery.

This guest blog post was written by Molly Brackin of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental health and justice organization. Since 2000, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has worked with communities throughout Louisiana that neighbor oil refineries and chemical plants, and are overburdened by pollution. Their mission is to support communities’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.

An Exxon refinery in Louisiana.

Six accidents a week and more than two-million pounds of air pollution are what Louisiana residents lived with in 2012—and they can expect more accidents and more pollution. Louisiana’s 17 refineries reported 327 accidents in 2012. The evidence is mounting that many refinery accidents are not being reported, and some of those reported are only due to community member’s forcing industry into the light.