News wire — The owners of the troubled Limetree Bay refinery in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands have agreed to reinstate the sulfur dioxide ambient air monitoring program immediately, days after the U.S. EPA notified the company it is in violation of the Clean Air Act.
Recent incidents at the refinery have caused sulfur dioxide releases that sickened residents and forced them into their homes. Even short-term exposures to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult, according to the EPA.
Reuters exclusively reported that the sulfur dioxide monitors near the refinery were not operating in March.
Limetree Bay said Wednesday it is reinstating the five sulfur dioxide air monitors near the facility voluntarily and that it is not required to operate the monitors under existing permits.
“We are committed to being a responsible part of the St. Croix community and believe this investment will help build trust in our operations,” said Chief Executive Jeff Rinker.
On Monday the company rebuffed the EPA’s notice of violation, arguing that the sulfur dioxide requirement only pertained to the refinery’s previous owner, Hovensa, because the plant no longer burns of sulfur-containing residual fuel oil as it used to.
The EPA disagrees with the company, noting that operating without sulfur dioxide monitors was in violation of the refinery’s permits and other regulations.
The EPA said Monday that it is encouraged by Limetree Bay’s decision to re-establish the sulfur dioxide monitors and that it is exploring how it can support or augment monitoring in the interim.
“Monitoring is particularly important for this community given the continuing reports of odors near the facility,” the agency said.
Agency staffers arrived on the island last week to conduct a joint investigation into the refinery incidents with the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
(Reporting by Laura Sanicola in New York;Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)