By KEVIN KILLEEN, CBS Radio
ROXANA, Ill. (KMOX) Those open air piles of dusty, black rocks behind the fence at the Phillips 66 plant are worrying U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.
Durbin is calling on the EPA and Centers for Disease Control to study possible threats to human health and the environment from the dust blowing off petcoke — a byproduct of refining tar sands.
“We have, across the state, more and more refineries that are refining these Canadian tar sands,” Durbin told the AP this week, “In the Roxana, Wood River area, the Conoco refinery has one of the major pipelines bringing in Canadian tar sands.”
Currently, petcoke is not considered toxic by the EPA. No known health risks have been discovered from breathing petcoke dust. But Durbin warns the dust could contribute to asthma or other respiratory problems. He spoke at a news conference in Chicago where a refinery there stores large piles of petcoke.
“The company should be warned right here and now we’re not going to quit,” Durbin said, “As long as these piles are sitting here, blowing this dust into the community, causing serious health problems, they’re in for a fight.”
At the Phillips 66 refinery in Roxana, plant spokesperson Melissa Erker noted that the outdoor piles of petcoke are much smaller than the ones at the Chicago refinery where Durbin spoke.
“We produce it here and ship it out,” Erker said, “But we don’t have the volume.”
Erker says the Phillips 66 refinery follows all EPA guidelines on petcoke and has received no complaints from the community.
“We use things like water spray. We use truck washing. We have street sweepers,” Erker said, “We do all kinds of things to make sure there is no dust.”
Across the road from the refinery, resident Mark Wolf says he hasn’t had any trouble with dust or soot problems from the petcoke piles.
“If there’s ever a problem with Conoco, you just speak to them and they’ll take care of it,” Wolf said. Wolf added that he does not work at the plant.
A few blocks west in Hartford, quick shop worker Irene Nance says she hears no complaints about dust from the petcoke piles getting into the community.
“If you’re driving on Hawthorne, it’ll blow over on your car, but other than that, I haven’t heard anybody having a problem with it,” Nance said.
Nance added that Hartford residents are not shy about complaining if the refinery causes them trouble. A few years ago, several residents won a class action lawsuit against the refinery when leaking gasoline got into the water table and made yards smell like gas cans.
“One guy had it so bad he could light a match and his yard would burn,” she said.