The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed Tuesday night that it has begun working with local authorities to investigate a potential toxic spill stemming from two Exxon Mobil refineries damaged by the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
"We are working with local authorities to investigate [and] will provide more information as we gather it," a spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner in an email.
Exxon filed a report earlier Tuesday with Texas environmental regulators saying its Baytown refining facility — the second-largest in the country — sustained damage after it became "partially" submerged due to record heavy rain. It also sustained damage to its Beaumont petrochemical refining facility.
The oil company said the damage caused the release of over 1,300 pounds of sulfur dioxide, which is a serious air pollutant and toxic gas regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency air and radiation office. The release followed damage to a sulfur thermal oxidizer, which captures and burns sulfur dioxide. Oxidizers are used commonly across a number of industrial sectors to capture the toxic gas.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was unaware of the refinery sulfur dioxide release earlier on Tuesday when he called into the Chad Hasty Show on KFYO in Lubbock, Texas, to talk about his role in the federal recovery effort following the hurricane and the ongoing flooding.
Pruitt said the agency's priority was monitoring 300 waste water treatment facilities that the agency feels may be vulnerable for possible release of contaminated water. Safe drinking water is another area of concern, as well as approving Clean Air Act waivers to allow the supply of gasoline and diesel to flow more easily to market without having to meet federal emission specifications requiring special blends, he said.
Hasty asked Pruitt, "Are we hearing of about any leaks ... or does it look as though people took care of business before the storm hit and we might be OK?"
Pruitt answered, "We have not had any reports of any concerns there."
Pruitt added that there's roughly 516,000 gallons of refining capacity being impacted by the storm that is shut down presently. "Hopefully, those are going to be able to come back on soon, but our private sector companies and industry did a great job in advance of the storm preparing," he said.