Opportunity for input on petroleum storage tanks

To the editor,

Pass through South Portland and you’re likely to notice the 120 massive petroleum storage tanks clustered along the city’s shoreline and often, the strong smell of petroleum. Most concerning is the impact of the tanks’ toxic chemical emissions on our health, including respiratory illness, asthma, neurologic, kidney problems and cancer.

For years, operators of South Portland tank farms have violated the Clean Air Act due to their potential to emit organic compounds at a rate that far exceeds what they are permitted under their state licenses. The recent beginning of very limited air monitoring has found troubling spikes of pollutants such as benzene and naphthalene, known carcinogens. Air pollution has been linked to increased vulnerability to COVID-19.

The tanks operate directly within South Portland’s densely populated neighborhoods alarmingly close to homes, senior housing, day cares and schools. People living near the tanks have reported headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes and throats from the emissions, not being able to keep their windows open or sit in their backyards.

This is a social justice issue allowing large companies to maximize their profits at the expense of public health. There exists a lack of transparency or accountability since these companies have not been required to do any actual monitoring or control of their emissions.

Earlier this year, Sen. Rebecca Millett introduced a resolve, LD1915, to the state legislature. It directed the Department of Environmental Protection to study the best ways to measure and control emissions from all above-ground petroleum storage tanks in Maine. The report is due in the beginning of January. Then, the hard work begins to make sure the study results in a law that will provide the protections we need.

The Environment and Natural Resource Committee will write a bill addressing the issue. There will be opportunity for public input while the bill is being written and again in a hearing before it goes to the legislature for consideration.

The bottom line is that technology exists to both effectively monitor and control these toxic emissions up to 95 percent. What is needed is the will to require its use to protect public health.

There will be more about the legislative process at ProtectSouthPortland.com

Roberta Zuckerman

South Portland