Baykeeper Notifies Benicia Petcoke Polluter of Intent to Sue
Oakland, CA—San Francisco Baykeeper yesterday served a notice of intent to sue Amports, the owner of the Port of Benicia, alleging repeated violations of the Clean Water Act. Baykeeper, responding to tips to its pollution hotline, observed several instances of petroleum coke dust being discharged directly into the Carquinez Strait portion of the Bay during the loading of cargo ships. Petroleum coke (petcoke) is an oil refinery waste product that contains copper, zinc, nickel, arsenic, mercury, and vanadium, which are all considered to be toxic substances by the EPA and are regulated under the Clean Water Act.
"Petcoke from the Amports facility may have been polluting San Francisco Bay and the nearby community for years, and now thanks to tips from the public, Baykeeper was able to catch the polluter red handed," said Baykeeper executive director Sejal Choksi-Chugh. "Baykeeper plans to make sure the Amports terminal is cleaned up and the polluter is held accountable for creating a toxic mess that could hurt people and the environment."
Baykeeper observed and documented numerous instances of petcoke being discharged directly into the Bay during the cargo loading process between November 2020 and March 2021. Baykeeper video, taken by drone, has captured black plumes of petcoke that can be seen in the water drifting away from the ship with the currents during and after loading and cleaning.
Baykeeper observed petcoke spilling off the conveyor belt system and entering the Bay. Additionally, Baykeeper observed a significant amount of petcoke deposited onto the decks of ships due to overspray, where it was then hosed off the deck directly into the Bay at the end of the loading process.
In the majority of Baykeeper's hundreds of past industrial pollution cases, the polluting company and Baykeeper have negotiated a settlement in which the company agreed to a specific plan and timeline to clean up its operations and come into compliance with the laws. If the allegations can’t be resolved within sixty days of receiving the notice of intent to sue, Baykeeper will file and prosecute a lawsuit in federal court.
"While we prefer to resolve this quickly and amicably, either settlement negotiations or success at trial will lead to structural and procedural improvements at the Port of Benicia that would stop the polluting activities and require the company to comply with all applicable environmental laws," said Choksi-Chugh. "Ultimately that means the Bay, its wildlife, and nearby residents will be better protected from petcoke pollution in the future."
The Port of Benicia Terminal, owned by Amports, is located in a community historically exposed to pollution, and is near a fishing pier, a point of public access to the Bay, and an area that is home to a variety of wildlife. The heavy metals found in petcoke are known to be harmful to fish and birds. Petcoke dust is also found to have irreversible respiratory effects in humans, and exposure to the pollutants in petcoke can cause severe health problems like asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease.
The petcoke loaded onto ships in the Port of Benicia is mostly exported to Asia, where it is burned for fuel. When burned, petcoke is a significant climate pollutant that is considered to be dirtier and more carbon-emitting than coal.
Founded in 1989, Baykeeper is the only organization that regularly patrols San Francisco Bay for polluters, by both boat and drone, and holds polluters and agencies accountable to create healthier communities and help wildlife thrive. Anyone who witnesses pollution happening on the Bay may report it to 1-800-KEEP-BAY or firstname.lastname@example.org.