The Environmental Protection Agency alleged in April that Global Partners, at 1 Clark Road in South Portland, violated its license by emitting more volatile organic compounds than allowed. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents will meet July 18 to air concerns about how fumes from a Clark Road tank farm have affected their quality of life.

Neighbors of Global Partners LP are expected to discuss everything from health concerns to financial distress and fears about environmental damage linked to Global and its emission of volatile organic compounds from heated tanks that store asphalt and residual No. 6 fuel oil.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts-based petroleum storage company’s 10-tank facility has exceeded its VOC emissions cap for several years. The allegations were made public March 25, when the EPA announced a consent agreement with Global Partners.

Under terms of that deal, the company, which denies the government’s allegations, must reduce emissions, pay a $40,000 fine and invest $150,000 in a program to replace or upgrade wood stoves in Cumberland County.

On June 10, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection placed six air quality monitors at locations in the city, City Manager Scott Morelli said. The devices will sample air quality in one 24-hour period each week over several months. The results will be analyzed and tested for more than 50 types of air pollutants.

But some city residents remain dissatisfied with the response from government agencies.

“Until recently, there really hasn’t been a channel set up for people to convey their concern and distress around the situation,” said Roberta Zuckerman, a coordinator for Protect South Portlandwhich is hosting next week’s discussion at the Brickhill Community Room, 80 Brickhill Ave., from 5:30-7:30 p.m. “It’s really important we give these folks a space to speak.” 

Several city residents who live near the tanks have complained of frequent nausea, sore throats, fatigue and headaches that are often triggered late at night or early in the morning, when residents claim odor from the tank farm is most pungent. 

According to the EPA’s website, VOCs can have short- and long-term negative health effects, with concentrations up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors. Adverse health effects may include headaches, nausea, eye irritation, dizziness, kidney damage, and in some cases, various types of cancer.

Maria Gonzalez, a single, working mother who has been renting an apartment on Lincoln Street since April, said the odor can be so pervasive that closing the windows of her home doesn’t always help. 

Gonzalez said affordable housing is difficult to find and, after having recently moved, she isn’t certain she can afford do so again in the near future.

“I didn’t realize this was an issue until I moved here, and I wasn’t told by my landlord,” she said. “I worry about my son, because I know how the smell affects me and I don’t want it to affect him the same way. I’m not planning to live here long term, but I’m frustrated. I feel stuck. I wasn’t planning on moving so soon.” 

Pamela Cragin, who lives and works in the city, said she used to bicycle to her job for years before the odor became overbearing. She believes the problem isn’t unique to Global, and that residents have likely been breathing in high levels of toxins from other industrial companies, too.

“We trusted in an industry. We trusted the government to keep us safe and we trusted the Maine DEP,” she said. “My hope is that residents will be protected from breathing (volatile organic compounds) from the oil industry. My hope is that this meeting will help us come together.” 

Ted Reiner said living on Turner Island off Elm Street puts him in close proximity to the tanks. When the wind blows, he said, it’s no different than being right on their doorstep. 

“I wonder about my own health, but I wonder more about the plants,” he said, noting that many trees in his yard that sit close to the water are dying and losing their lush, green color. “It’s not definitive, but my neighbors’ trees are failing to thrive also.” 

Reiner said he and other residents also believe Global has been venting fumes late at night, when people are less likely to notice. He said he’s concerned residents are getting the maximum dose of VOCs before a public safety crisis would be triggered.

“The benefit of the doubt should be with the people, not the company,” Reiner said. “This meeting is about raising public awareness. We worry for kids that are already breathing substandard air.” 

Zuckerman said Protect South Portland’s philosophy is that individual people alone don’t have the same kind of impact as when they come together as a group.

It’s really just going to be a beginning meeting to meet one another and talk,” she said about the July 18 gathering. “We don’t know where it will go from there.” 

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