The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Chicago-area Oil Refineries Contaminate Local Waterways

Feb 20, 2023

Chicago-area oil refineries are among the worst polluters of U.S. waterways, yearly discharging millions of pounds of toxic waste into Lake Michigan and local rivers. Yet this activity is consistently tolerated as legal and acceptable by both capitalist parties running federal and state governments.

Despite a myriad of national and local laws supposedly designed to protect waterways and local residents, oil refineries continue to dump massive amounts of toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the Great Lakes and the nation’s rivers. In rare instances, measly fines are imposed, which are never severe enough to deter these Big Oil giants from their profit-hungry goals.

During 2021 alone, 81 refineries released 1.6 billion pounds of chlorides, sulfates, and other dissolved solids into these waterways. Collectively they discharged 60,000 pounds of selenium and nearly 16 million pounds of nitrogen into lakes and rivers, creating deadly toxic hazards that damage public health and wreak havoc on aquatic life and its ecosystems. All these oil refineries are located in working-class neighborhoods and communities, contaminating water supplies and exposing the local population to numerous toxic health hazards. It’s the working class that always pays the price.

For years an ExxonMobil refinery just southwest of Chicago has dumped dangerous toxic pollutants in both solid and chemical form into the Des Plaines River. Between 2019 and 2021, pollution levels exceeded government “allowable” levels by 40 times. Yet neither federal or state governments have taken any action to penalize ExxonMobil for these repeated and excessive violations.

The BP Whiting refinery on Lake Michigan’s southern shore is a national leader for dumping the toxic chemical selenium into waterways. Located just a few miles from Chicago’s city water intake cribs, it poses a constant threat to the city’s under-maintained and outmoded water filtration system. If ingested by humans selenium can cause gastrointestinal problems, tremors, difficulty breathing, and kidney and heart failure. Both selenium and nitrogen are highly toxic in fish, and cause water-fouling algae and dead zones in important fisheries.

Over the years, especially at election time, influential capitalist politicians share platforms with Big Oil executives at public events, pushing the lie that they are in lock step toward advancing a clean environment and the public good. They certainly are in lock step—in their mad chase after profit.