SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Residents who have long fought for tighter regulations of local petroleum tank emissions gathered Friday outside an elementary school, urging support of legislation that they say would protect South Portland neighborhoods.
Residents are seeking tighter environmental standards for 120 nearby oil tanks in the area, which release hazardous levels of volatile organic compounds — or VOCs — and other chemical pollutants into the air, exceeding federal emissions caps and posing serious health risks to people in the area.
“People living here should not have to tape up their children’s bedroom windows to keep out toxic fumes, or have to roll up their car windows on the way to day care,” said Rachel Burger, of South Portland.
Over much of the last decade, a growing number of South Portland residents have pushed for stronger regulation and testing around chemical emissions from many massive petroleum storage tanks nearby. Many of the tanks are within sight of schools, playgrounds and parks.
“The cost of doing business in our community should rightly be that emissions are tested and treated responsibly,” Burger said, saying that emissions pose serious health risks to people in the area.
The tanks are owned by six companies, including Gulf and Citgo. In 2019, the federal Environmental Protection Agency filed a consent decree with New Hampshire-based Sprague Resources and Global Partners, a Massachusetts-based company that owns some of the tanks in South Portland, including four that contain asphalt and bunker fuel.
According to the decree, Global Companies’ tanks were found to emit twice the permitted amount of VOCs, violating the federal Clean Air Act.
Global filed a memo with the Maine Department of Environmental Protections saying that it used a method of calculating emissions internal to the oil industry. The Environmental Protection Agency currently accepts several methods of determining chemical emissions.
“Tank emissions are self-reported by the oil companies. I consider that the fox guarding the hen house,” said Roberta Zuckerman, an activist with Protect South Portland.
PJ Cragin of South Portland said the residents’ complaints are about more than odors.
“We’re not asking them to regulate odors, we’re asking them to regulate cancer fumes,” Cragin said.
In January, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection released a report on the measurement and control of emissions from petroleum tanks in the state, which indicated that the state was looking for ways to curtail emissions.
Burger, who convened early meetings of Protect South Portland in her living room in 2013, has battled cancer four times since moving to Maine in 2004. She called on attendees to support recently proposed legislation by Rep. Victoria Morales, which creates new requirements for energy companies to meet when seeking permits and establishes new penalties for violations of air emission standards.
The bill, LD 1532, is slated for a hearing before the Legislature’s environment and natural resources committee on May 3.