What's the problem?

Questions and Answers about the Sunoco Refinery
The Toledo Sunoco Refinery dumps 69,609 pounds of toxic waste in their neighborhood every day. 72,607 people live within three miles of the refinery. Each day, this factory turns 140,000 barrels of crude oil into gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, solvents, propane, and other petroleum products.

Most refinery toxic air pollution comes from product leaks in equipment, not smokestacks. Since 1996, there have been 100 chemical spills at the Sunoco refinery, due to equipment failure, valve and gasket failure, leaks, stack releases, and permit violations, according to the Ohio EPA. Over the same period, 54 Sunoco refinery neighbors called the Ohio EPA to complain about air quality.

In 1998, administrators at Coy Elementary School next to the refinery had to evacuate the students and teachers due to dangerously high levels of butane in the air. Exposure to butane, a petroleum derivative, can cause headaches, nausea, confusion, dizziness, and respiratory failure.

Where is the Sunoco refinery?

Sunoco refinery is in the City of Oregon. It is a neighbor to residents of East Toledo.

What is an oil refinery?

All oil refineries change crude oil -- a mixture of many different organic hydrocarbons -- into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, kerosene, lubricating oils, tars and asphalt. They remove water and other impurities from the crude oil, then distill the crude oil into its various fractions, and, if necessary, further change these fractions through chemical reactions into their final products.

How many people breathe the pollution coming from Sunoco Refinery?

72,607 people live within three miles of the Sunoco refinery. 600 people work in the refinery. Many more come to work in other businesses in this area and breathe the polluted air.

What complaints do Sunoco Refinery neighbors have?

Neighbors smell petroleum-related odors all the time, and have complained of strong propane, heavy oil, and sulfur odors. They also have headaches, nausea, difficult breathing, irritation to skin and eyes. Residents also deal with particulate deposits on their houses and cars. Administrators have had to evacuate Coy Elementary School due to high levels of chemicals both inside the classrooms and in the playground. Sometimes, children in this school have had to miss recess due to the fumes outside. Some chemicals are easy to smell at low concentrations. At higher concentrations, human sense of smell can fail to detect the smell.

How has Sunoco Refinery management responded to these complaints?

Sunoco's response had been more toward treating the symptom than addressing the real problem. For instance, they have offered to clean peoples’ houses when members of the communities have complained. They also have a community advisory panel, which is not open to all community members and therefore does not address all the issues affecting the community.

What are government agencies like the Ohio EPA doing about air pollution from the refinery?

Government agencies issue permits to pollute. The U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA, and Toledo Environmental Services have issued Sunoco 'Notices of Violation' of their permits. Meanwhile, neighbors continue to breathe the toxic chemicals. Governments tend to take a long time to act, and the small fines are not much incentive for improvement.

What are some of the toxic chemicals released by refineries?

Some chemicals are in the crude oil itself -- such as heavy metals, surphur compounds, and phenols -- while others are created during the refining process -- such as cyanide, dioxins, and furans. All of these chemicals can be toxic at low concentrations. Among the many pollutants emitted into the neighborhood each year are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxides, carbon monoxide, benzene, mercury, and dioxin.

What can these chemicals do to people?

1. Sulphur dioxide

High levels of sulfur dioxide can cause breathing problems, respiratory illness, changes in the lung's defenses, and worsening respiratory and cardiovascular disease. People with asthma or chronic lung or heart disease are the most sensitive to sulfur dioxide.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are the main precursors of acid rain, which acidifies lakes and streams, accelerates corrosion of buildings and cuts visibility.

2. Benzene

Benzene can cause leukemia, cancer of the blood-forming organs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Breathing very high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness, even death. Benzene also harms bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can hurt the immune system, increasing the chance for infection. Women exposed to high levels of benzene for many months experience irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries.