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Environmental groups sue over loosened dioxin limits

The Associated Press
Wednesday March 14, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Two environmental groups sued state and local regulators Tuesday for increasing the amount of dioxin an oil refinery is allowed to release into San Francisco Bay. 

Communities for a Better Environment and San Francisco BayKeeper filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court charging that the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and the State Water Resources Control Board violated state and federal guidelines on dioxin pollution. 

The regional control board changed the amount of dioxin that the Golden Eagle Refinery, owned by Ultramar Diamond Shamrock, could release into the Bay from 0.14 picograms per liter to 0.65 picograms per liter, and the state board approved the permit.  

The groups say that the Clean Water Act prohibits the weakening of dioxin regulations. 

“The permit has gone through two sets of public hearings – first here in the region, and in the state. The environmental groups made their arguments, and in both cases state attorneys looked at it and disagreed,” said Wil Bruhns, senior engineer at the regional water board.  

“We don’t agree that their interpretation of the law is apropos in this case.” 

The suit is seeking to have the level of acceptable dioxin discharge reduced to 0.14 picograms per liter again. 

“At the end of the day, this is a very disturbing precedent for any hope of restoring water quality in San Francisco Bay and around the state,” said Jonathan Kaplan of San Francisco BayKeeper. “The bay is already so impaired by dioxins that it’s unsafe to eat any quantity of fish caught out of the bay.” 

Dioxin is a highly toxic chemical that can damage the immune system and interfere with hormones.  

The two groups also are concerned that the higher levels of dioxin that can be released will poison fishermen who eat their catches from the bay. 

Shelia Vassey from the state regulatory board declined comment on the matter, saying she had not yet seen the complaint.