Damage to the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance is seen from Crenshaw Boulevard. Photo by John Schreiber.
Damage to the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance is seen from Crenshaw Boulevard. Photo by John Schreiber.

Three citizens are suing the Torrance Refining Co. and its new owners, alleging an ongoing nuisance at the facility stemming from the environmental fallout of an explosion in 2015.

The Los Angeles Superior Court proposed class-action lawsuit was filed Friday, a day before a fire and another explosion at the refinery took about a half-hour to distinguish and forced the brief shutdown of Del Amo Boulevard.

The plaintiffs in the case are Torrance resident and small business owner Arnold Goldstein, licensed Torrance real estate agent John Covas and Gisela Janette La Bella, who also works in the city. They are seeking unspecified damages.

A refinery representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Feb. 18, 2015, blast injured four people and occurred when the refinery was still owned by ExxonMobil. The facility was later sold to PBF Energy. Both ExxonMobil and PBF Energy are co-defendants in the lawsuit.

During the 2015 explosion, Goldstein watched as ash “fell from the sky like snow” and has since developed a persistent cough and been diagnosed with asthma, the suit says. La Bella, who was jogging with her dog when the ash fell, alleges she suffered damage to her larnyx, “causing her great pain in her second job as a singer,” and says her dog became seriously ill and required veterinary treatment.

PBF completed its purchase of the refinery — which is in a three-mile radius of 333,000 residents, eight hospitals and numerous schools — last July through a subsidiary company at a cost of $537.5 million, according to the suit.

According to the plaintiffs, the refinery began moving toward operating again last May and hundreds of pounds of particulate emissions were initially released because of a lack of proper pollution controls.

“Plaintiffs are informed and believe … that the restart of the refinery was rushed so that it would be operating prior to Exxon’s sale to the PBF defendants,” the suit alleges.

Multiple “flaring events” — the burning off of gas during a malfunction — have occurred since the restart of the refinery, constituting an ongoing nuisance through the spread of additional pollutants, the plaintiffs allege.

Meanwhile, the Torrance Police Department said the cause of Saturday’s fire and explosion was being investigated, and other than the affected unit, the refinery was continuing to operate. Police also said the incident was reported to appropriate agencies, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

About 300 people gathered late Saturday morning at Columbia Park at Prairie and 190th Street for a march to the refinery entrance. The group was organized by the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, which is calling for a ban of MHF at the Torrance refinery and at a Valero refinery in Wilmington.

— City News Service

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