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Published: Friday, 4/22/2005

Accident concerns taken to Sunoco by 15 activists

Ohio Citizen Action members, one wearing a gas mask, enter the Sunoco refinery property. Ohio Citizen Action members, one wearing a gas mask, enter the Sunoco refinery property.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

Citing concerns about the potential for an accident similar to one a month ago at a Texas refinery that killed 15 people, demonstrators from Ohio Citizen Action gathered yesterday afternoon near Sunoco's East Toledo refinery to deliver a letter to the plant manager and place leaflets at nearby homes.

"This tragedy in Texas City is a reminder of the ongoing threat to refinery workers and neighbors," said Todd Pincombe, the program director for Ohio Citizen Action. He led a group of 15 activists who gathered at a carryout on Navarre Avenue across from the refinery.

However, the three people in the group who identified themselves as residents of East Toledo or Oregon said they were more concerned about long-term exposure to pollutants from the refinery than the possibility of being killed or injured in an accident like the March 19 explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City.

All three complained about foul odors and fumes from the plant that they claim burn their skin and nasal passages.

"The EPA proved it was harmful for us, so why isn't something being done for us?" said Sara Jackson, who lives on Hurd Street just two blocks north of the refinery that straddles the Toledo-Oregon border.

"I got burned again last week," said Heather Wolfe, who lives east of the plant on Mambrino Road in Oregon. "It makes my eyes and face burn, and my skin turns bright red. It takes a few days for it to go away."

After the news conference, nine members of the group delivered refinery-safety pamphlets to nearby homes, while six went to the refinery office with a letter for plant manager Roger Lyle. A refinery security officer accepted it and promised to deliver it.

Olivia Summons, a Sunoco spokesman, said later in the afternoon that Mr. Lyle was out of town and had not yet seen the letter, so the company would have no comment on it.

The letter focused on issues arising from the Texas City explosion, which occurred during the restart of an alkylation unit that is used to boost octane in premium-grade gasolines. The 15 people killed were either BP employees or contract workers, but some nearby residents were among more than 100 people injured.

Among the letter's five questions to Mr. Lyle were inquiries about whether the refinery has a major-accident evacuation plan for nearby homes or would be willing to participate in a "reverse 911" notification effort for neighbors.

While declining to answer any of the questions specifically, Ms. Summons said Sunoco reports "every incident as required by laws and the regulations." The refinery has its own trained fire response team, and notifies local emergency agencies when appropriate to do so.

"They're the ones who are responsible for any evacuations," she said.

Thirteen months ago, Sunoco entered into an agreement with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency under which it was to pay a $475,000 fine for violating sulfur dioxide emission limits. The refinery paid a $200,000 fine for similar violations in 1995. Sulfur dioxide, a foul-smelling gas that is a by-product of petroleum refining, reacts with moisture to create sulfuric acid.



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