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Release Date: 6/18/1996
Contact Information: Bill Glenn, U.S. EPA, (415) 744-1589

(San Francisco) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) today announced that five oil refineries and one pipeline transfer station in California have agreed to install pollution control equipment that will reduce emissions of smog-forming pollutants at their facilities.

Chevron U.S.A. Inc. (Richmond), Chevron Pipe Line Co. (La Mirada), Mobil Oil Corp. (Torrance), Ultramar Inc. (Wilmington), and the Union Oil Company of California (Carson and Arroyo Grande) have agreed to install controls on petroleum liquid storage tanks to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

"These companies are among the first in the nation to employ relatively simple but effective controls that will have a significant impact on reducing chemical emissions from storage tanks," said David Howekamp, director of air and toxics for U.S. EPA's western regional office. "By reducing these emissions the companies are also saving product, so the companies benefit at the same time that public health and the environment are better protected.

"We are particularly pleased with these settlements because of the tangible environmental benefit that will be achieved," said Howekamp. "In terms of reducing air pollution, it's like taking nearly 5,000 cars off the road."

In complaints filed concurrently with consent decrees in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and San Francisco, U.S. EPA alleged that the companies operated equipment known as "slotted guidepoles" on petroleum liquid storage tanks at their facilities in a manner that violated U.S. EPA's New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and resulted in excess VOC emissions to the atmosphere. Because there are usually numerous storage tanks in operation at any one facility, the total VOC emissions from these guidepoles can have a significant impact on regional air quality.

A slotted guidepole is a device used on storage tanks that are equipped with floating roofs. A guidepole is mounted at points above and below the range of travel of the roof and passes through a hole in the roof, acting as an antirotational device to prevent the roof from spinning as it rests on the liquid surface. Guidepoles that are perforated (or "slotted") along their lengths allow the product in the tank to flow freely through the pole, and facilitate product sampling in the tank. However, the slots also allow significant emissions of VOCs into the atmosphere.

As part of the settlements in these cases, the companies agreed to install controls on these tanks as well as on storage tanks that are not subject to NSPS requirements in an effort to further reduce VOC emissions at their facilities. U.S. EPA estimates that the controls obtained in these settlements will result in a total reduction of at least 280,000 pounds of VOCs per year.

In the presence of sunlight and heat, VOCs react with nitrogen oxides in the air to form ozone, the main ingredient in smog. Ground level ozone causes health problems by damaging lung tissue and sensitizing the lungs to other irritants. Studies show that regular exposure to ozone in concentrations found in many populated areas of California can significantly reduce lung function in normal, healthy people during periods of moderate exercise. People with asthma, the elderly, and children are especially at risk. Because it is also toxic to plants, ozone can reduce crop yields and damage forests and other vegetation.

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