| Article published Monday, August 11, 2003|
Neighbors’ beef with Sunoco is heard
Inquiries to probe area health
By TOM HENRY
Oil droplets in swimming pools. Oil droplets on
houses. Oil droplets on cars.
East Toledo and Oregon
residents have been irked for years by what appears to have fallen
out of the sky. Others are now taking notice:
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta,
a sister agency of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, is putting together a study to examine the neighborhood
health risk posed by emissions from Sunoco MidAmerica’s refinery at
1819 Woodville Rd. The refinery is more than 100 years old and has
more than 57,000 people living within 3 miles of it.
The Ohio Department of Health plans to meet with elected
officials, residents, and American Cancer Society members within a
month to introduce a broader study in hopes of determining whether a
cancer cluster exists. The Sunoco refinery and other sources of
industrial pollution will be studied.
Ohio Citizen Action, the state’s largest activist group, has
started a "good neighbor" campaign, asking the Sunoco refinery to
cut emissions voluntarily, Beatrice Miringu, Toledo-area director of
Citizen Action, said.
The group wants reductions from
Oregon’s BP refinery too, but is focusing on Sunoco because of its
proximity to a residential area and its violation history, Ms.
Miringu said. BP is more isolated, near the hazardous waste landfill
operated by Envirosafe Services of Ohio, Inc.
Division of Environmental Services, on behalf of the Ohio
Environmental Protection Agency, has cited Sunoco for more
violations since the company agreed to a $200,000 fine and vowed to
make improvements in sulfur dioxide emissions in a 1995 consent
order with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
In a warning
letter issued Feb. 18, the city accused Sunoco of "excessive
malfunctions" last fall. Although Sunoco said it has made
improvements and has decreased its releases since 1988, it is
defending itself from a lawsuit filed in April, 2002, by the
attorney general’s office.
Philadelphia-based Sunoco, Inc.,
is committed to modernizing the Toledo refinery so it can meet tough
new U.S. EPA regulations for sulfur dioxide that go into effect in
2005, Olivia Summons, refinery spokesman, said. The refinery is one
of four in the U.S. owned by the company, she said.
right now is to invest heavily in this plant to comply with these
regulations," Ms. Summons said.
Citizen Action’s campaign has
generated interest - the company has received 2,900 letters
recently. Some writers want the refinery to curb emissions while
others want it to take more precautions against spills, Ms. Summons
Refinery officials say they long have worked on the
concerns of a community panel. She said the refinery takes such
items seriously. "We know we have a responsibility to employees, the
contractors who work here, and the neighbors. We are environmentally
People who live or work in the area have mixed
Their complaints range from noxious odors to skin
irritations. Their ailments range from asthma to leukemia, but they
acknowledge that attributing problems to a single source is hard to
Don Moore, 71, of Patchen Road in Oregon, said he
recently noticed leaves falling off an otherwise healthy tree in his
backyard, which faces the Sunoco refinery.
"I was cutting
grass. It was like a fine mist hitting my arms," Mr. Moore said. He
called Sunoco, as he had when he found oil droplets on his house and
on his car. He has called the company when his lawn was covered with
a substance that appeared to be soap suds, he said.
others said Sunoco generally has been prompt about responding,
sending over a representative and, at times, washing down homes or
paying for car washes. Yet residents stay frustrated because they
claim to know little about what comes of those samples. The samples
are analyzed to see if droplets can be attributed to Sunoco.
"Sometimes, there may be things that people attribute to the
refinery that may not be from us," Ms. Summons said.
why we’re asking them to be a good neighbor. Our concern is people’s
health and safety," Ms. Miringu said.
In 1998, Oregon’s Coy
Elementary School was evacuated twice in 10 days because of leaks at
the Sunoco refinery’s tank farm on Wheeling Street near Brown Road.
One day it was because of fumes from a diesel spill; another day it
was fumes from a leaking butane line. In the fall of 2001, the firm
was cited for an unauthorized discharge of crude oil into Otter
Creek, a Lake Erie tributary.
The Agency for Toxic Substances
and Disease Registry decided to investigate after hearing complaints
and learning of the Coy evacuations.