“Over the years, Phillips 66 and Cenovus Energy, the companies that own the Wood River Refinery in Roxana, Illinois, have been sued by both the state and federal government for polluting the air and discharging toxic wastewater into the Mississippi River. In 2018, they settled one such lawsuit, agreeing to spend about $10 million to upgrade and monitor the refinery’s leaky vents, as well as an additional $500,000 to clean up low-income homes and buildings contaminated by lead in nearby counties where young children and pregnant women may have been exposed. The upgrades were designed to protect residents in Roxana, who had lived in the shadow of the refinery and been exposed to toxic emissions from the plant for years.
But just a year after a district court judge signed off on the agreement, the company recently notified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies involved in the settlement that it had suspended all work on the lead abatement program. In fact, it may not be able to comply with many of the terms in the agreement, it wrote to the agencies. The reason? The COVID-19 pandemic.
“The idea of delaying lead abatement is concerning because people are spending more time at home, so they’re getting more exposure [to lead],” said Debbie Chizewer, managing attorney at the environmental nonprofit Earthjustice’s Midwest office in Chicago.”