The Delaware City Refining Co. is facing major fines for the illegal release of pollutants in “flaring” events.
This June, state regulators accused the refinery of dumping more than 100 tons of sulfur dioxide and other toxic chemicals into the air in at least 26 flaring events between 2013 and 2015. These events occur when refineries need to burn off excess chemicals released during the refining process. Once released, sulfur dioxide turns into microscopic particulates, and even short-term exposure can worsen asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and even heart disease.
“Each of these incidents was reported by the refinery when they occurred, but we are just now taking enforcement action,” said Ravi Rangan of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn.”
Now, the Delaware City Refining Co. faces $270,000 in fines.
In recent years a number of studies have proven that low-income and minority communities are much more likely to suffer from dangerous pollution. In 2012, Scientific American reported on a groundbreaking study about pollution in minority neighborhoods, which concluded that there was a growing body of “evidence of a widening racial and economic gap when it comes to air pollution.”
Even neighborhoods where the air quality meets federal health guidelines may still be in danger, particularly from the common particulate called PM2.5, but better known simply as soot. It’s a dangerous mixture of emissions from diesel engines, refineries, power plants, highways, and many other forms of combustion. The microscopic particles in soot penetrate deep into lungs, which is why residents of low-income neighborhoods with high pollution have much higher rates of asthma.
Moreover, minority neighborhoods are often less likely to have trees and parks. Trees and plants can increase a home’s property value by up to 10%, but they can also act as a natural barrier against pollution. When trees are properly placed around a building or home, they can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and save heating and cooling energy needs by 20 to 50% a year.
Trees also absorb or block some airborne particulates, which is why cities like Baltimore and New York City have experimented with urban forests to improve air quality. In a single year, trees in New York City removed 1,821 metric tons of air pollution.
That might seem like a lot, but it’s a reduction in particulate matter of just 0.47%, a drop in the bucket compared to the pollution floating around minority neighborhoods every day.
According to Scientific American, “The greater the concentration of Hispanics, Asians, African Americans or poor residents in an area, the more likely that potentially dangerous compounds such as vanadium, nitrates and zinc are in the mix of fine particles they breathe.”