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Toxic leaks at BP's Whiting Refinery come as advocates push for stricter pollution control

The BP Whiting Refinery covered in snow.
FILE PHOTO: Tyler Lake
BP said it has contained the leaks at its Whiting Refinery and that the air monitors haven’t shown elevated readings.

Tank leaks at BP’s Whiting Refinery in northwest Indiana sent toxic pollution into the air in the past two weeks. Residents reported headaches, dizziness and general malaise.

The leaks come as activists advocate for a stricter permit for the refinery.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management suspects cold temperatures on Jan. 18 caused a valve to freeze and crack. The agency said that sent cancer-causing benzene and hydrogen sulfide — which can harm your lungs — into the air.

A second leak was from a liquefied natural gas tank on Tuesday — emitting even more hydrogen sulfide.

BP said it has contained the leaks and that the air monitors haven’t shown elevated readings.

Susan Thomas is the director of legislation and policy for Just Transition Northwest Indiana. She said there are two types of air monitors at the Whiting Refinery and the public has a right to be informed when these incidents happen.

“What are they picking up? Why did they call the authorities on this? And why was the public not alerted? You know, yet again, we see this repeatedly," Thomas said.

In June, a power outage at the refinery led to unplanned gas flaring which also put lung-damaging pollutants into the air.

READ MORE: BP to pay record high penalty for air pollution at its northwest Indiana refinery

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IDEM said it notified the City of Whiting and Lake County Emergency Management and Homeland Security on Jan. 19. However, no notices were posted for residents on the Whiting or Lake County Emergency Management websites or social media accounts.

Thomas said residents need to speak up about the health problems they’ve suffered from BP’s pollution. IDEM will hold a public meeting about the Whiting Refinery’s permit renewal on Feb. 8 at East Chicago Central High School at 6 p.m.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story said there are two air monitors at the Whiting Refinery. For the purpose of clarity, it has been changed to two types of air monitors.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.