Exxon Mobil's PCB Leak Turns into $2.64-M Fine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has settled with the Exxon Mobil Corp. for $2.64 million for allegedly disposing of and improperly handling polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on an offshore oil and gas platform in the Santa Barbara Channel, off the Southern California coast, in violation of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, according to an Aug. 21 press release.

Between 2002 and 2005, two large electrical transformers located on Platform Hondo, part of Exxon's Santa Ynez Unit, leaked nearly 400 gallons of PCB-contaminated fluid. Exxon allowed one of the transformers to leak for almost two years before repairing it. The leaking from the transformers constitutes illegal disposal of PCBs, a violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Additionally, Exxon failed to ensure that workers who cleaned up the leaked fluid were provided protective clothing or equipment to protect against direct contact with and inhalation of PCBs. Exxon replaced the two transformers with non-PCB containing transformers in 2005.

PCBs are man-made organic chemicals used in paints, industrial equipment, plastics, and cooling oil for electrical transformers. More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States before EPA banned the production of this chemical class in 1978, and many PCB-containing materials are still in use today.

When released into the environment, PCBs remain for decades. Tests have shown that PCBs cause cancer in animals and are suspected carcinogens in humans. Acute PCB exposure can also adversely affect the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems as well as liver function.

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