For nearly a decade, the jury found, emissions of benzene and other hazardous chemicals — from two hulking, uncovered tanks — regularly swept into a mostly poor, minority neighborhood known as Hillcrest.
That was in June 2007. To the dismay of the refinery’s neighbors, Citgo still hasn’t been sentenced — a delay legal scholars say is unusual. A Citgo lawyer blames federal prosecutors for the delay.
The judge in the case recently held that the residents — who blamed a variety of health problems on the tank emissions — didn’t qualify as crime victims because the government failed to prove their ailments were directly tied to the pollution.
Some in Hillcrest wonder when, or if, Citgo will ever be punished.
“They should have been sentenced a long time ago,” said Jean Salone, 70, who has lived a few blocks from the refinery since 1962.
Salone, a witness in the 2007 trial, said that odors from the open-top tanks at times were overpowering. “One time I was in a dead sleep, and the smell came into my house and woke me up,” she said.
The occupants of Hillcrest’s 300 or so homes have had a range of conditions, from cancer to asthma, Salone said. A state environmental inspector who visited the neighborhood is among those who fell ill. Yet the judge in the case has ruled that residents’ symptoms have many potential causes besides exposure to chemicals from the Citgo tanks. (read more)