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Emissions, mishaps from Northwest Indiana BP refinery draw ire of residents and activists

Contentious meeting in Whiting, Indiana for BP air permit renewal
Contentious meeting in Whiting, Indiana for BP air permit renewal 02:17

WHITING, Ind. (CBS) -- A series of mishaps at the BP Refinery in Whiting, Indiana brought hundreds of people to a contentious meeting with state regulators Thursday night.

This came as the company's air permit is set to be renewed.

Residents and environmental activists have raised a number of concerns about the new permit. They want to know what will be done to prevent future incidents, and are calling for tighter emission limits.

Thick, dark smoke filled the skies above Whiting and beyond back on Thursday, Feb. 1 – as the refinery experienced a power outage. As a precaution, some employees were forced to evacuate, and fires typically seen shooting out of the refinery's stacks were increased to burn off extra oil during the outage.


This was described by BP as a normal process.

In January, a leak at the refinery sent the smell of natural gas wafting across state lines into Illinois.

"The bad air from Indiana comes to Illinois on a regular basis," said concerned resident Mary Griswald.

A group of Northwest Indiana residents gathered in Whiting Thursday night – fueled by health concerns and armed with signs.

"We are fighting for public health," said Thomas Frank of East Chicago.

The majority spoke against the refinery and its emissions.

"How are we living in a first-world country where you can't even provide clean air to us?" said Grace Tafoya of Gary.

"This is not fantasy," said Ashley Williams of Michigan City. "This is life in the sacrifice zone of Northwest Indiana."

Leaders with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management – or IDEM – are responsible for renewing BP's air permit, which is set to expire.

"We are hoping that they will deny this permit," said Susan Thomas. "I think these communities are very tired of being dumped on."

Environmental justice advocates say the permit does not go far enough to protect the people of Northwest Indiana.

"We also want better fence-line monitoring for the facility, given the events that have happened the last two months," said Ellis Walton, an associate attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

"How much longer can we continue like this?" said Thomas. "It's unsustainable."

Last year, BP was fined a record $40 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating environmental regulations.

BP did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night, but has previously said they are interested in public input.

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