A 'Near Miss' Disaster at Citgo's Corpus Christi Refinery

"The Citgo Petroleum Corp. refinery and the Hillcrest neighborhood of Corpus Christi sit side by side, separated by a fence. Hillcrest is what environmental justice advocates call a 'fenceline community'—a poor, largely minority residential area exposed to high levels of pollution from adjacent industry.

When refineries are involved, fences don’t always make for good neighbors.

On the morning of July 19, an unspecified equipment failure on the alkylation unit at the refinery released butane, hydrocarbons and hydrogen fluoride, sparking a fire that burned for two days and left one worker, Gabriel Alvarado, with severe burns and an amputated forearm.

The incident was far from the most serious at the Citgo refinery in the past decade. But it has sparked an outcry from environmental groups, safety experts, unionized refinery workers and residents of Hillcrest and other neighborhoods near the facility. They’re not buying the official story from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Citgo: that the chemical release posed no risk to the community and that the authorities’ quiet response—notifying only 15 to 20 nearby households—was adequate."

Forrest Wilder reports for the Texas Observer August 21, 2009.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009