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Pollution settlement forces changes at BP's Whiting Refinery, company to pay $500,000

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FILE PHOTO: Tyler Lake/WTIU
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BP's Whiting Refinery in northwest Indiana.

BP's Whiting Refinery in northwest Indiana.
Credit Tyler Lake/WTIU

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The Hoosier chapter of the Sierra Club and three other environmental groups have reached a settlement with BP for emitting too much particle pollution at its Whiting Refinery in northwest Indiana. Particle pollution has been linked to health problems like asthma and heart attacks.

The lawsuit alleges the plant didn’t report all emissions from equipment it uses to convert oil to gasoline and failed to operate certain pollution controls. Among other things, BP will have to pay more than $500,000 in penalties and do more stringent emissions monitoring and reporting at the plant.

Eric Schaeffer is the director of the Environmental Integrity Project — one of the plaintiffs in the suit. He said changes at the refinery as a result of the settlement will likely improve the health of people living downwind.

For one thing, he said BP will have to operate certain pollution control equipment more often — which it sometimes pauses for things like maintenance. Schaeffer said stopping pollution controls even for a few hours sends those harmful particles straight into the air.

“You can’t do that. As long as you're generating pollution, unless you have an emergency situation, you need to be running your pollution controls," he said.

READ MORE: Sierra Club Suing BP Over Air Violations At Whiting Refinery  

Amanda Shepard, director of the Hoosier chapter of the Sierra Club, said the settlement is an important step for environmental justice as many of the people who live within a 3-mile radius of the refinery are Black and Latino residents.

"So this consent decree really serves as an important win for those communities," she said.

Susan Eleuterio lives in the city of Highland, about 20 minutes south of the plant. Years ago, she started going on long bike rides in northwest Indiana to raise money for charity and developed what she refers to as a “gut allergy.”

“I have to take allergy medicine 24 hours a day, every day," she said. "And frankly, I think part of that is looming in northwest Indiana. You know, I think that the air still is not what it should be."

Eleuterio and her husband were involved with a previous lawsuit against BP. She said she worries about the health of children in northwest Indiana and that she’s happy to hear about this recent settlement.

BP did not make anyone available for an interview, but said the company is “pleased to resolve these issues” and is committed to operating its Whiting Refinery safely.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.