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Published: Saturday, 5/10/2008

OSHA: Sunoco didn't fix its problems


An East Toledo oil refinery hit with $330,000 in fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration this week allegedly didn't maintain paperwork and failed to fix things it knew needed attention up to six years ago, according to OSHA documents reviewed by The Blade.

Sunoco Inc.'s Woodville Road facility underwent an extensive inspection in November, 2007, by safety investigators under OSHA's National Emphasis Program for petroleum refineries. An emphasis on inspections for refineries was launched after a 2005 explosion at BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 people.

At Sunoco, inspectors found 27 serious and three willful violations, broadly classified in three basic types:

•Maintenance records not properly maintained, which prevented Sunoco officials from correctly determining which equipment might need service or replacement.

•Safety planning in which Sunoco allegedly failed to properly protect workers from potential blast damage or airborne contaminants.

•Failing to fix or replace pieces of equipment found to be wearing thin or leaking as far back as 2001 and not keeping up with engineering practices, especially regarding pressure-relief valves.

Julie Hovi, OSHA's area director in Toledo, said she could not discuss specific allegations levied against Sunoco's Toledo operations but said the agency would work with the refinery to correct the problems alleged. However, she said the amount of fines levied against Sunoco were indicative of the seriousness of the problems found.

"The bigger the fine - there's an indication that there were problems," Ms. Hovi said. She noted that safety and health regulations require companies to fix potential problems such as metal fatigue or thinning pipes when they are detected.

"You are obligated by law to take care of business," Ms. Hovi said.

Olivia Summons, a Sunoco spokesman, could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, the company said earlier that it is reviewing OSHA's report and would work with the agency to resolve any issues.

About 500 people work at Sunoco's Woodville Road refinery. OSHA has inspected the facility five times since 1974, most recently in 2006.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.

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