We've all had our eyes focused on the Gulf for some time now — so much so that we might be missing disasters happening in our own backyards.

 

That's just what happened to families in Texas City, Texas, who found out about another toxic BP spill that occurred in their neighborhood after a piece of equipment critical to the refinery’s operation broke down, releasing a total of 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, into the air over 40 days.

The engineers at the plant decided against the costly step of shutting the plant down and instead diverted gases to a smokestack and tried to burn them off. But according to state environmental officials, hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxins still escaped into the air.  

Neither the state nor BP informed neighbors or local officials about the pollutants until two weeks after the release ended, after numerous Texas City residents began complaining about unexplained respiratory illnesses. Many of those affected were kids.

BP has been quick to downplay the incident, saying the three air pollution monitors in the plant, and two in the local community, did not show a significant rise in air pollution during the event. But environmentalists think the release of toxic gases ranked as one of the largest in the state’s history.

They also argue that the damage might be worse than BP is letting on, as the company estimated that more than 98 percent of the pollution was burned off by a flare, an overly optimistic figure in the eyes of many environmental scientists.

According to federal and state officials, regular safety violations are nothing new at this plant. In 2005, an explosion at the refinery killed 15 people and injured more than 170, and BP was fined $87 million by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for safety lapses that led to that blast.

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