Citizen groups sue ExxonMobil’s Chalmette Refinery: Frequent breakdowns at refinery threaten human health

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Chalmette, LA – February 12, 2004 – Years of terrible odors in their neighborhoods and ongoing fears about health harms have led the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to sue ExxonMobil in federal court today, seeking protection from the pollution by enforcing the Clean Air Act. “This law suit is being filed because we all want clean air and a healthy community. It’s too late when you receive the devastating news that you have cancer,” said Ken Ford, President of the St. Bernard citizens group.

St. Bernard Parish has the highest cancer mortality rate in the state, and ExxonMobil’s neighbors have for years complained of a high rate of cancer and respiratory problems. "Chalmette Refinery illegally emits millions of pounds of harmful pollutants because it does not prevent the frequent equipment breakdowns at its refinery," said Andre Shiromani, a student attorney with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.  "We hope this lawsuit will force Chalmette Refining to operate its refinery in a safe and environmentally responsible manner."

The suit details serious problems at the refinery, including frequent breakdowns and failure of the flares. The flares’ failures mean that chemicals are illegally dumped into the air with no mechanism for ensuring the raw chemicals’ incineration. Homes and an elementary school are located within half a mile of the facility.  

Civil penalties for the violations would be payable to the U.S. Treasury and would be up to $27,500 per day for each ExxonMobil violation. “ExxonMobil made $21.5 billion in profit in 2003,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “When you drive by the ExxonMobil refinery, you see rust everywhere. They need to start investing in the refinery and in people’s health.” The suit details 
the health harms caused by the chemicals, including respiratory diseases, reproductive disorders, developmental disorders, nervous system and cognitive disorders, cancer and death.

Groups sue refinery on notice (page 2)

The law suit filed today details five causes of action: 1) Violation of permitted emission limits due to frequent and preventable equipment breakdowns; 2) Violation of flare performance standards and monitoring requirements; 3) Violation of benzene emission limits for storage tanks; 4) Violation of reporting requirements for “unauthorized discharges”; 5) Violations of Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act reporting requirements.

The suit is being filed under a citizens’ enforcement provision of the Clean Air Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act which allow citizens to enforce the law if the government fails to do so. “Our Clean Air laws provide that citizens have the right to protect their health and safety when industry and government have failed to take the appropriate action,” said Denny Larson of the National Refinery Reform Campaign. “Refinery neighbors in Chalmette have a right to cleaner air and now they are taking on a corporate Goliath in a case that will put them in a national spotlight.”

Members of St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade live in Chalmette and suffer health risks from breathing air that Chalmette Refining has illegally contaminated.  These neighbors are also at risk of injury from explosions and chemical emergencies at the refinery; and odors that emanate from the refinery damage the neighbors’ quality of life.  Through this action, the neighbors seek to obtain an order that would require the refinery to comply with federal and state emission limits and reporting requirements, and to require Chalmette Refining to pay civil penalties to the U.S. Treasury.

WHAT:     Copies of the complaint will be distributed and the law suit discussed

WHERE:     12 Carroll Drive off of St. Bernard Highway in Chalmette

WHEN:    11:00 AM, Thursday, February 12, 2004

For a copy of the law suit, please call the Clinic at 504-865-5789.

For additional information regarding the national implications of this suit, call Denny Larson of the Refinery Reform Campaign at (415) 845 – 4705.

The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality was formed to address pollution issues in the parish.  For more information, call 504-271-4410 or visit

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is a 501(c)(3) environmental health and justice organization working with communities that neighbor the state's oil refineries and chemical plants.  The EPA-approved “bucket” is a simple, community friendly tool that fenceline neighbors use to take air samples.   For more information on the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, visit or call 504-269-5070.

The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic trains effective and ethical lawyers by guiding 26 third-year law students through actual client representation and represents clients who could not otherwise afford competent legal help on environmental issues.  By giving a voice to clients who would otherwise not be heard, the Clinic broadens public participation in environmental decisions.  For information, visit

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