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Suit Against Refinery Has Neighbors Concerned

March 21, 2003|Joy L. Woodson | Times Staff Writer

Carson residents who live in the shadow of BP-Arco's massive oil refinery reacted with a mixture of alarm and skepticism to a lawsuit filed last week by the AQMD that accuses the oil firm of repeatedly violating air pollution rules.

"I've been at my house at night sometimes with the doors closed and the windows shut and I can still smell [the refinery]," said Olive Harris, a 78-year-old retiree who lives four miles north of the refinery.

Harris said she's glad the South Coast Air Quality Management District is monitoring the refinery, because she considers output from the plant to be a major health issue in the community. "Anything that can be done should be done," she said.

In its lawsuit, the AQMD says that, over an eight-year period, BP-Arco repeatedly violated rules governing storage tanks at the refinery and falsified reports and barred inspectors from examining equipment. The agency is seeking a $319-million penalty.

The AQMD's lawsuit also says that BP-Arco failed to adequately control emissions from flare gases and that noxious fumes led to complaints of headaches and nausea at Broad Avenue Elementary School and Wilmington Middle School, which led to the evacuation of some classrooms two years ago.

BP-Arco said the agency's action is unwarranted and it will fight the lawsuit.

Paula Barnett, a spokeswoman for BP-Arco, said that the company had repaired faulty tanks and that emissions were under control. She stressed that there is no danger to the public.

Despite those assurances, residents remain concerned.

"Of course I'm upset about this," said Robert Lesley, president of Carson's Coalition for Concerned Citizens. "This is something that the city as well as these regulatory agencies need to come in and do something about." Lesley, a longtime Carson resident, said he could find no reason that the AQMD would lie about the allegations.

Other residents said they support BP-Arco. They said the company has traditionally been responsive to neighborhood questions and find the alleged cover-up hard to believe.

"I find it amazing that the AQMD would come up with that kind of data," said Ray Park, president of the Dominguez Area Property Owners Assn. and a planning commissioner. "You can't simply single out BP. There are other industries in the area."

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