HOUSTON (CN) - According to its own records, ExxonMobil violated the Clean Air Act by releasing "more than 8 billion pounds of pollutants into the atmosphere" from its Baytown industrial complex over the past 5 years, two environmental groups claim in Federal Court.
ExxonMobil's giant industrial complex covers 3,400 acres along the Houston Ship Channel, 25 miles east of Houston. It is the "largest petroleum and petrochemical complex in the United States" and contains the country's largest refinery, the Sierra Club and Environment Texas Citizen Lobby say in their complaint.
"According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency ('EPA'), thousands of people live within a mile of the Baytown Complex; tens of thousands of people live within 3 miles of the Baytown Complex; and hundreds of thousands of people live within 10 miles of the Baytown Complex," the groups claim.
Both groups say they have members who live and work near ExxonMobil's "Baytown Complex," and ExxonMobil's violations of the Clean Air Act have had a tangible effect on them.
"Excess emissions from the Baytown Complex cause and contribute to chest congestion, coughing, fatigue, headaches, itching eyes, and other conditions among plaintiffs' members," according to the complaint. "Plaintiffs' members worry that the complex's excess emissions heighten the risk of cancer."
ExxonMobil operates not only a refinery but a chemical plant that "produces more than 7.2 billion pounds of petrochemical products a year," and an olefins plant that "produces 6 billion pounds of ethylene, propylene, and butadiene; it is one of the largest ethylene plants in the world," according to the complaint.
"Plaintiffs have members who can see air pollution coming from the Baytown Complex, such as plumes of smoke from flares at the Baytown Complex and thick haze that sometimes hangs above the complex and nearby neighborhoods," according to the complaint.
"A sticky, sooty substance is deposited in neighborhoods near the Baytown Complex," the groups say. "Plaintiffs have members who believe this substance originates in the Baytown Complex."
The groups add that ExxonMobil's plants emit noxious odors. "The types of odors emanating from the Baytown Complex that plaintiffs' members smell include: a rotten egg odor, an odor like burning rubber, and chemical odors. The odors become stronger closer to the Baytown Complex."
The groups say their members suffer from "chest congestion, bronchitis, asthma, headaches, sneezing, coughing, itchy and watering eyes, and fatigue," which typically diminish when they "go on vacation or visit friends and relatives out of the area" of Baytown.
"Plaintiffs' members who moved to neighborhoods near the Baytown Complex from other parts of the state or country began experiencing these symptoms only once they moved to Baytown," the groups say.
"Plaintiffs' members who live in the vicinity of and downwind of the Baytown Complex are exposed to higher levels of a variety of pollutants - including hazardous air pollutants, known carcinogens, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and the ozone that is formed as a result of the emissions of these pollutants - than they otherwise would be," according to the complaint.
ExxonMobil's violations stem from a variety of causes, the groups say. "These include, but are not limited to, equipment failures and malfunctions, operational problems, electrical problems, inadequate maintenance, poor record keeping, and other longstanding systemic problems," according to the complaint. "Plaintiffs are unaware of any actions by the defendants that have solved, or will solve, these persistent problems, or that will otherwise eliminate similar violations of the [Clean Air] Act, in the future."