EPA orders hazardous waste probe at shuttered E. Chicago site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a hazardous waste investigation at a sprawling former oil refinery in northwestern Indiana that was shuttered in 1973 and later was the scene of a major fire.

The federal agency recently ordered Citgo Petroleum Corp. and Oxy USA to begin assessing and cleaning up dangerous waste at the former Cities Service Refinery site in East Chicago.

Local activist Thomas Frank said that the EPA’s order could be an indication that parts of the property could be reused eventually for industrial purposes.

“I’m happy to see a cleanup is on the way. I’m concerned to see all the time that was wasted,” Frank said. “We’re glad there’s attention. By them addressing the issues, they are posing as if they have a solution. What really is occurring is that they are putting a band-aid on it.”

Texas-Empire Pipe Line Co., a subsidiary of Cities Service Oil Co., built the 372-acre refinery in 1929 with 55 large storage tanks and a daily production capacity of 15,000 barrels. The refining operation, which chiefly manufactured and stored gasoline for cars, went through multiple owners over the years. The refinery became unprofitable and closed in 1973, and in 1980 it was the scene of a major fire when naphtha erupted in an abandoned storage tank.

The Citgo Terminal Facility still operates 53 tanks on 228-acres on the property’s northern end with a capacity of 180 million gallons of petroleum products, according to the EPA.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede said he appreciates “the willingness Citgo and Oxy have shown to cooperate and work towards our common goals of protecting local human health and the environment.”

“This is another example of the ongoing commitment that EPA and the State of Indiana — which provided valuable information about the site — have to clean up hazardous-waste sites in East Chicago,” he said.

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