Oil refineries are polluting US waterways. Too often, it’s legal
Every day, the process of processing crude oil into petroleum creates millions of gallons of wastewater containing hazardous chemicals and heavy metals, which leaks from the facilities and into rivers and streams, affecting nearby communities. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is legally required to monitor these toxins and levy penalties, a new study released by the Environmental Integrity Project finds that this is not happening. Monitoring data, permit applications, and hazardous release reports from the nation's 81 oil refineries that discharge waste directly into waterways or via off-site treatment facilities are analyzed in the research. The plants released 60,000 pounds of selenium, which has been related to fish mutations, and 15.7 million pounds of nitrogen, which feeds hazardous algal blooms, in 2021 alone. 10,000 pounds of nickel, which is toxic to fish at very low concentrations, as well as 1.6 billion pounds of chlorides, sulfates, and other dissolved solids that may destroy pipes and contaminate drinking water, were also dumped into streams. According to the research, the majority of this pollution occurs in areas where people have less economic means and political power to fight back. More than 40% of the refineries in the research are in areas where the majority of population are persons of color or are low-income.