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Years Of Toxic Leaks Raise Cancer Risk In New Mexico Refinery Town

When the new pastor arrived at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church a few years back, he was struck by the sight and smell of the towering refinery a block east of his chapel. The Rev. A.L. Vijaya Raju had a question: Were fumes from the flares, pipes and tanks to blame for breathing problems afflicting some parishioners? A deacon told Raju not to worry — but EPA data and documents show the pastor was right to be concerned. State regulators for more than a decade had allowed HollyFrontier Corp.'s Navajo refinery in this desert town of 12,000 to delay fixing leaky equipment that was releasing toxic gases, including high levels of the carcinogen benzene. Those benzene emissions raised alarm bells at EPA last year and spurred an exhaustive investigation by federal inspectors. In neighborhoods close to the refinery, where half of the residents live under the poverty line and whose population is mostly Latino, people were kept in the dark about the benzene problem until February. An analysis by a watchdog group showed the Artesia refinery had the nation's second-highest annual average benzene emissions and skyrocketing emission spikes through last September. Raju estimated that some 60% of his prayer list, or about 80 congregants, are battling various cancers.  Read more.....



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