Sunoco Oregon Refinery
Upsets, accidents and malfunctions: 2002 - 2003


August 18, 2004
Rachael Belz, Associate Director

Refinery pipingDuring the last two full years, the Sunoco Oregon Refinery has had 104 accidents, upsets and malfunctions. All but 6 of these releases were of amounts high enough to be reportable to the local air agency, Toledo Environmental Services. Different chemicals have different reporting amounts. For instance, the limit for a sulfur dioxide release to be reported to the air agency is 500 pounds.

The worst year of the last two years for the Sun Refinery was 2002. There were 70 accidents, 66 of them of amounts high enough to be reported to Toledo Environmental Services.

In 2003, Sun had a total of 32 reportable violations. Six of these reported malfunctions were directly related to the blackout throughout Northeast United States, some during the black out and a couple during start up.

The accidents throughout 2002 and 2003 were varied and included these types of releases: small and large amounts of sulfur dioxide; particles, soot and dust; butane; gasoline components; and waste products known as "slop oil."

The most complete information found in the 2002 and 2003 Sun reports were for releases of sulfur dioxide. Much of the information was incomplete concerning releases of hydrocarbons, particulates and a petroleum product Sun calls "slop oil."

From the information Sun submitted to Toledo Environmental Services, it appears that most of the actions taken at the time of the upsets were of a "band-aid" nature, rather than a long term fix. This seems to explain why there are many times throughout 2002 and 2003 that Sun experienced the similar, or the same, problems many days in the same month.


Sunoco Oregon Refinery: 20 largest releases, 2002 - 2003
Year Date Amount released Chemical or waste released
2002 Jan 22 6,000 gal sludge, water and unknown amount of hydrocarbons
Mar 4 42,960 lbs sulfur dioxide
May 20 95,250 lbs hydrocarbons
May 24 33,500 lbs carbon monoxide and unknown amount of particulates
Jul 29 96,300 lbs propane and butane
Aug 12 411,600 lbs butane
Oct 6 - 10 97,500 lbs sulfur dioxide, about 1,034 lbs/hour according to report
Oct 11 50 gal slop oil, 200 square feet of soil affected to an inch deep
Nov 2 12,883 lbs sulfur dioxide
Dec 29 17,152 lbs sulfur dioxide
2003 Jan 23 66,410 lbs sulfur dioxide
Jan 27 70,663 lbs sulfur dioxide
Feb 17 66,111 lbs hydrocarbons
Feb 23 15,736 lbs sulfur dioxide and unknown amount black smoke
Feb 28 11,200 lbs sulfur dioxide and black smoke
Mar 31 225 gal xylene
Apr 19 13,175 lbs sulfur dioxide and black smoke
Aug 10 - 13 1,881 lbs volatile organic compouds, or 21.6 lbs/hour for 87.25 hours
Aug 14 11,470 lbs sulfur dioxide, additional 77 lbs hydrocarbon and 150 lbs hydrogen sulfide also released
Aug 15 535 gal propane/propylene, 127 gal isobutane also released
Source: Sunoco reports to Toledo Environmental Services.

Often throughout the listing of the upsets, you will see more than one incident on the same day. As much as possible, Ohio Citizen Action listed together malfunctions and upsets that occurred at the same time or were part of a cause and effect accident. There are a few accidents that occurred on the same day, but did not appear to be related. These are listed separately.

Ohio Citizen Action compiled this information from reports sent to Toledo Environmental Services from Sunoco's Oregon Refinery. Any enforcement actions, or consequences of the accidents and malfunctions are unknown. Since the information is submitted by companies to the agency without any verification or testing required, the reliability of the information is dependent upon the self-reporting by the company.

The descriptions of cause and action taken include these acronyms used by Sunoco and Toledo Environmental Services:
"FCC": Fluid catalytic cracker
"HCC": Hydrogen catalytic cracker
"UPS": Uninterrupted power supply
"SRU": Sulfur recovery unit
"GPU": Gas processing unit
Potential health effects related to Sunoco releases

Benzene: Benzene is a waste product in the productions of petroleum refining. It is a carcinogen, and developmental and reproductive toxin. It is suspectedof causing cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, immune and respiratory problems in humans. Exposure may alter menstrual cycles and reduce ovary size. It may damage fetuses by causing low birth weight, delayed bone formation and bone marrow damage.

Carbon monoxide: Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure at lower concentrations in healthy people include headaches, decreased alertness, dizziness, flu-like symptoms, nausea, fatigue, rapid breathing, confusion, disorientation, impaired judgment and weakness. Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure at higher concentrations include brain damage, coma and death.

Hydrogen sulfide: Communities impacted by hydrogen sulfide are primarily affected by its foul odor. Although high levels of hydrogen sulfide can be irritating and cause a variety of health effects, irritation and respiratory effects are not expected to occur at levels below 30 ppb, the Minimum Risk Level established by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Some people are extremely sensitive to the odors of hydrogen sulfide. Health effects associated with individual sensitivity to odors are relieved once the individuals leave the area affected by the odors.

Naptha: Naphtha is a group of various volatile inflammable liquid hydrocarbon mixtures used chiefly as solvents. It is obtained from petroleum refineries as the portion of the distillate which is intermediate between the lighter gasoline and the heavier benzene. Health effects may include damage to red blood cells. It is a suspected developmental toxin. Exposure increases the risk of lung tumors, and may produce damage to the eyes, liver, kidneys, skin, red blood cells and the central nervous system.

Particulates: Studies show particles damage lungs by increasing asthma attacks, aggravating bronchitis, reducing lung function growth in children, and contributing to premature death and hospital visits of people with respiratory and cardiac problems.

Sulfur dioxide: Short term exposure irritates and restricts airways, tightness in the chest, reduces mucus clearance. There are fewer long term studies, but they suggest the health effects of long term exposure are bronchitis and the suppression of the immune system.

Volatile organic compounds: There are no specified symptoms for since such a wide variety of compounds are encompassed by the term. The only descriptions which can be given are very general and apply mostly to high concentration levels. At a high concentration, they can act as central nervous system depressants, irritants, narcotics, and carcinogens with the potential to significantly increase a person's risk of acquiring cancer. Volatile organic compound problems are widespread having been reported extensively across North America and in most every developed nation across the globe. Common symptoms from these reports include headaches, drowsiness, eye irritation, rashes, and respiratory and sinus problems.

Xylene: Xylene is a suspected developemental and reproductive toxin. Exposure to it may also damage the liver adn cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immune, nervous and respiratory systems.

Sources: "Poisons in our Midst" report by Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund; "Health effects of shipping related air pollutants" by Diane Mitchell, Ph.D., California EPA Air Resources Board; US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.