From mid-1980 until 2003, Williams Refinery owned and operated a huge plant in South Memphis. During this time, the Environmental News Service reports, the company allegedly violated the Clean Air Act, including failure to repair faulty equipment, failure to properly store hazardous waste, and the failure to limit their benzene emissions.
The excess benzene is what really got the Oklahoma-based company in trouble. Benzene exposure has several serious health effects. According to the Department of Heath and Human Services (DHHS), it has been linked to infertility, anemia, chronic damage to bone marrow, and leukemia.
In order to resolve these allegations, the company agreed last week to pay $2.2 million in civil penalties. A portion of the fine will go to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for violations of the Clean Water Act.
The oil refinery continues to operate, though with a different owner. It was sold in 2003 to Premcor Refining Group Inc., and merged with Valero Energy Company in 2005. Williams owns other refineries in the U.S., and reported a profit of $1.47 billion in their Full-Year 2006 Financial results.