A Los Angeles County environmental rights organization provided notice Wednesday to Phillips 66 of intent to sue for alleged “repeated and ongoing” violations of state pollution laws at the company’s Wilmington and Carson refineries.
The notice states that San Francisco-based Earthjustice intends to file a citizen complaint against Phillips 66 in Los Angeles federal court within 60 days on behalf of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, an environmental health and justice organization based in Commerce.
The plaintiffs allege that the petroleum refineries expose nearby communities already at risk of the coronavirus to hundreds of tons of known carcinogens, leading to “increased cancer and other health risks,” and in doing so, violate the Clean Air Act.
Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said the Houston-based company is aware of the notice of intent but does not comment on matters involving litigation.
“At Phillips 66 we take seriously the safety of our people, communities and the environment, and have teams of people who work each day to ensure that we abide by regulations set by governing agencies including those in the state of California,” Nuss said. “We are committed to complying with all applicable laws and regulations while providing energy and improving lives.”
Plaintiffs point to studies showing that residents of low-income communities with higher smog levels are at greater risk of dying from COVID-19 and that health damage from the coronavirus can be made worse by long-term exposure to air pollution.
“Refineries contribute about 32 percent of total VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in Wilmington, Carson, and West Long Beach, making them among the largest stationary sources of VOC emissions in these communities and in the South Coast Air Basin,” according to the plaintiffs’ letter to Marshall G. Waller, superintendent of environmental services for the Phillips 66 Company, and Paula A. Johnson, executive vice president, legal and government affairs, general counsel, and corporate secretary for Phillips 66.
“The Phillips 66 Wilmington and Carson refineries are major sources of these VOC emissions and other pollutants that place significant health burdens on surrounding communities,” plaintiffs wrote.
The plaintiffs also contend that the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s study determined that the Wilmington refinery is leaking 202 times more benzene than they report — meaning 102,616 pounds of benzene, rather than the 508 pounds the company allegedly reported in 2018.
While the alleged violations persist, communities living near the Phillips 66 Wilmington and Carson refineries continue to suffer from exposure to excess VOC emissions, dangerous ozone levels, and significant health hazards, plaintiffs wrote to the energy company.
“The pollutants at issue are VOCs, which we know are ozone precursor pollutants — and ozone damages lungs,” Earthjustice attorney Oscar Espino-Padron said. “It aggravates asthma and undermines lung function. These emissions put communities at even greater risk for COVID-19 death or complications.”
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs will seek penalties, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and litigation costs, and other appropriate relief, as allowed under the Clean Air Act.
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