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Exxon Let PCBs Leak for Years Off Santa Barbara Coast

LOS ANGELES, California, August 25, 2008 (ENS) – Between 2002 and 2005, two large electrical transformers on an Exxon Mobil offshore oil and gas platform in the Santa Barbara Channel leaked nearly 400 gallons of fluid contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs.

That long leak off the coast of Southern California has cost the Exxon Mobil Corporation $2.64 million in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA announced Thursday.

The leaking transformers on Platform Hondo, a part of Exxon’s Santa Ynez Unit, constitute illegal disposal of PCBs, a violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal agency says.


A transformer aboard Platform Hondo
in 2004 (Photo courtesy Minerals
Management Service)

“Today’s settlement sends a clear signal that companies must follow PCB regulations to protect communities and our environmental resources,” said Wayne Nastri, administrator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region.

In 2005, Exxon replaced the two transformers with others that contain no PCBs, but the company “allowed one of the transformers to leak for almost two years before repairing it,” said the EPA in a statement announcing the fine.

Exxon also failed to ensure that workers who cleaned up the leaked fluid were provided with protective clothing or equipment to guard against direct contact with and inhalation of PCBs.

PCBs are manufactured organic chemicals used in paints, industrial equipment, plastics, and cooling oil for electrical transformers.

When released into the environment, PCBs remain for decades. Tests have shown that PCBs cause cancer in animals and are suspected carcinogens in humans.

Acute PCB exposure can also adversely affect the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems as well as liver function.

More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States before the EPA banned the production of this chemical class in 1978, and many PCB-containing materials are still in use today.

It was concerns about human health and the extensive presence and lengthy persistence of PCBs in the environment that led Congress to enact the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976.

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