Less than 48 hours after a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee sent to the Virgin Islands to investigate the Limetree oil refinery told colleagues, “There is oil on my windshield,” the agency took the remarkable action to shut down the entire refinery citing an “imminent” threat to human health.
This is not the first time the St. Croix refinery has made it rain oil. A release of oil vapor in early February, three days after reopening for the first time in a decade, triggered an EPA investigation and Administrator Michael Regan said the refinery showered oil on nearby residents twice and has released sulfuric gases into the surrounding area and spewed hydrocarbons into the air at least as many times over the past three-and-a-half months.
The refinery leaked more than 300,000 barrels of petrochemicals and polluted St. Croix’s only aquifer over decades before it shut down nearly 10 years ago after settling a multimillion-dollar lawsuit with EPA as well as several class-action suits.
“Our children are suffering,” local resident ChenziRa Davis-Kahina said during a virtual town hall meeting. “This is becoming uncomfortable to a point that we have to put out a hashtag like, ‘We can’t breathe.’ We have to put out hashtags like, ‘Stop killing us.’ We have to put out hashtags to get people to hear what’s happening here in a place that’s supposed to be America’s paradise.”
Judith Enck, who oversaw the U.S. Virgin Islands for EPA as its Region 2 administrator, told The Washington Post, “This is a majority-Black island in a U.S. territory. It is located next to public housing. If this refinery were located most anywhere else in the country, it would have been shut down months ago.”