The Sunoco refinery is our neighbor

15-minute DVD, May 2005

Filmed and edited by David Ryder
Interviews and production assistance by Rachael Belz, Todd Pincombe, and Angela Oster
Ohio Citizen Action

Willow Cemetery

David Ryder, Ohio Citizen Action:
This is Willow Cemetery in Oregon, Ohio. There is no peace for the neighbors who rest here or the families who visit. This is because Willow Cemetery is inside the Sunoco refinery and the industrial roar never stops. Outside the refinery, there are thousands of neighbors who are alive and want to stay that way. You are about to meet some of them.

Anita Laporte, Oregon resident, formerly worked next to Sunoco:
Jason was in sixth grade at Coy School having the same problems. The principal's office had a whole drawer full of inhalers. The teachers said 60% of their kids were on inhalers at Coy School. They were being told it was from mold, but the problems they had weren't being caused from mold. My son couldn't eat when he was at Coy school. It was weird. "Just give me an apple, Mom. I can't eat. I'm too sick at school." And I'd say, "What's wrong with you?"

Shirley Jacobs, formerly worked next to Sunoco:
How many times did you have to go and get him?

Anita Laporte:
I'd have to go pick him up. It started actually when I was at Anderson. Finally, I couldn't pick him up anymore. My in-laws would pick him up. They'd say as soon as they got him home, he was fine. The principal's trying to tell me he doesn't want to be in school. I'm like, "Jason was a straight-A student and loved school." It was always after recess, and he'd say to me, "Mom, the smell at recess is so bad."

Coy School playground
Shirley Jacobs:
Where was recess at?

Anita LaPorte:
Outside. I never connected it until after I left PathLabs and started thinking a little better. If he was here, he'd tell you that girls would fall down on the stairs and lose their balance. Kids crying all the time. They were small skinny kids. They'd play baseball all the time. The Coy School kids were the joke of all the schools in Oregon. The kids were so underweight. He was in 6th grade and weighed 60 pounds. By the time he was in the eighth grade, he weighed 120 because he was out of there. He was unable to eat when he went to school. The difference in the size of Coy School kids compared to other kids, like from Jerusalem or Wynn [Elementary Schools] -- they were just very small.

Melody Dutton, neighbor:
One night I was coming home from work. When I got down here at Navarre [Avenue], it was all a fog. It was so thick I didn't know what was going on. I got home. The whole field, my whole yard, the whole neighborhood: you couldn't see anything. So I called them. It was like one o'clock in the morning. I said, "What is your problem? What are you having?" She asked me if I was experiencing difficult breathing. . . "I came in the house," I said, "but I could cut it with a knife. It's so thick, I couldn't see anything. I have dogs that need to go out." She told me if I have any trouble to go to the emergency room.

Rachael Belz, Associate Director, Ohio Citizen Action:
Did you ever find out what the . . .

Melody Dutton:
She just said they had some kind of problem and that they were working on it That's all she told me. She was real nice, very considerate about everything, but the first thing she said, "If you have any problems, go to the emergency room immediately."

Rachael Belz:
What about any health effects have you had? People talk about having anything from headaches to respiratory issues. What have you experienced?

Melody Dutton:
I get a lot of respiratory infections and stuff. Who knows? She's [referring to Kay Dutton] been getting a lot of them. My uncle just came out of the hospital after eight days and they told him he has asthma now. He's been living here five years [and] he never had a problem. He's 85 and he never had asthma and now they're telling me he has asthma. I don't know. You get dry throat. I'm hoarse a lot. I don't know if its from that, but where is it coming from?

Sunoco refinery

Rachael Belz [to Heather Wolfe]:
You live on Mambrino [Road], two blocks from the plant. Tell me about Christmas to New Years.

Heather Wolfe, fenceline neighbor:
On Christmas Eve, I got a headache. It didn't go away until probably January 6. My face gets so swollen that no air can get into my nose anyway, so I can't smell anything. It has to be drowning me before I notice. I spent how many weeks in bed full of drugs trying to get rid of the headache.

Rachael Belz:
Is that the health effect you experience the most commonly?

Heather Wolfe:
Yes. I'm usually shocked when I don't have a headache. I have a headache every single day, ever since I've lived in that house. I never got headaches that bad. I've always gotten migraines, but not every day -- certainly never had headaches every day of my life. Since I've lived in that house, I do.

Rachael Belz:
How long have you lived there?

Heather Wolfe:
Twenty years.

Rachael Belz:
You were talking a little bit about some of the visible pollution you experienced. Could you tell me a little bit more about what you see and what its like?

Julie Elvey, fenceline neighbor:
We notice a lot when we get up in the morning. We have the back porch here, and we have the white plastic chairs. Every morning I get up, I go out there and there's soot on those chairs -- enough that I have to actually wipe it off. Every day. It's not like it's once in awhile. It's practically every morning. Do you want to add something to that?

Harold Elvey, fenceline neighbor:
My truck outside: I don't park it in the garage. I'll clean it in the morning before work on Friday and Saturday morning, I'll have oil specks, particles, something on my vehicle.

Oil dots
Julie Elvey:
It's not always those little particles, it's like little oil dots. Those are really hard to get off. You really have to scrub to get those off, you can't just take the chair and shake them off like you can the actual particles. The little oil spots are there a lot on the window sills, in the chairs also. Sometimes, it's just so noisy, you know the sound. You're out there and and all you hear is that hissing from that place. I understand that it's a refinery and there's going to be some noise, but sometimes I really do think that it's excessive. Plus our windows sills: Our house is blue so we don't notice it as much but all our white windows sills, they get that on them also. Anything that's white shows the little round black soot particles. That's why when I talked to Anita [LaPorte], I voiced my concern that, hey, I notice it, too. It bothers me, because if that gets on there, how much of that are we breathing into our lungs?

Harold Elvey:
As far as I know, there is no evacuation center. Do they have an evacuation plan set up if something was to go wrong? How would they notify us neighbors? Nobody's ever told me anything.

Julie Elvey:
Just because nothing's ever happened doesn't mean it never will.

Rachael Belz:
Have you lived elsewhere in Oregon?

Melody Dutton:
Eastside [of Toledo], Navarre [Avenue] and Woodville [Road]. You couldn't smell. My bedroom faced the flames. You could ask her, I used to hate it. At least once a week, my bedroom would be like fire, orange. I hated it because it would light up my bedroom just like a fire was in there. I just hated it. And I get panic attacks from the loud noises.

Rachael Belz:
What did the loud noises sound like?

Melody Dutton:
The rumbling like a jet. Maybe like a jet hovering over you. Something like that. Like the engine of a huge jet. Like its right there at your ears.

Paul Ryder, Organizing Director, Ohio Citizen Action:
I think a lot of people watching this will be asking themselves, "Why doesn't she move?"

Melody Dutton:
How could you afford to?

Heather Wolfe:
I'm stinking poor. I'm just dirt poor. I've had many catastrophes. I've paid, in the past twelve years, $35,000 in medical bills. I don't have anything.


David Ryder films Rachael Belz interviewing Shirley Jacobs.

Julie Elvey:
The noise is quite bad sometimes, too. There's lots of times where it rumbles the house, it shakes us. I know they have their shutdowns and they have their start-ups and that, but sometimes its just really annoying because it goes on and on. That noise is not always the same noise, either. Sometimes its like a boom and then sometimes its just really loud hissing noises. You hear all kinds of sounds. That's really quite annoying also.

Harold Elvey:
We live so close to it. There's nights when, in the summer or even in the fall, certain times it seems as though when its windy that the torch is always lit.

Julie Elvey:

Harold Elvey:
And there's nights we don't need a backyard light because we've got one a block away. You can't tell me that they can't do something with that product. Because it'll be a red flame and then it goes down and you see black stuff and then it'll flame up again.

Julie Elvey:
I understand that sometimes they have problems.

Harold Elvey:
They claim that they're burning off their excess product.

Julie Elvey:
That's when it really makes the noise.

Harold Elvey:
We learn to live with it, but is it right?

Rachael Belz:
You were talking about some of the rumblings and the shakes. Can you describe what it's like and, if you've noticed, is it at a particular time of day?

Melody Dutton:
It's usually at nighttime, and things will shake on your walls and on your shelves. The whole house shakes. You can feel the floor moving.

Kay Dutton, neighbor:
You can be sitting there and you can feel the rumbling.

Melody Dutton:
And the flares, they light your whole yard and and the field and the front up.

Kay Dutton:
I thinks its scary. You don't know if its going to explode or what's going to happen.

Melody Dutton:
One time they had an explosion and it knocked all of our knick-knacks off. What does that tell you? And we're not right next to it.

Rachael Belz:
How far about would you say you are from the refinery?

Melody Dutton:
Ten blocks maybe.

Heather Wolfe:
20 years ago when we moved in there, there was an enormous explosion. Actually I was knocked right out of bed and I hit my head on my nightstand. It was like a bomb. Then I heard sirens and then the sky turned black. Then there were 7 more explosions.

Melody Dutton:
If there's one, there's more. We have train tracks and I'm used to that, that doesn't bother me. But Sun Oil, you let one thing happen and you know it right away. I don't know what you're supposed to experience. I would have never thought you'd have to experience something like this.

Sunoco Refinery, Oregon, Ohio
69,000 pounds of toxic air pollution every day
21 accidents in the last six months
72,000 people live within three miles