Blog post by R.J. Bowman, Environmental Justice Corp Intern, Residents for Air Neutralization Member
In the heat of the summer, a heavy rainfall for the city of Shreveport, Louisiana would be a great relief. But to others, it is a chance to take advantage of the community. On July 17, 2010 from around 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. a needed rain began to pour. At about the same time, a refinery, Calumet Lubricants, in the community of approximately 20,000 residents that are within a one mile radius and about 80% African American, had an accident. Calumet Lubricants specializes in making petroleum based products and for the majority of the day, their flaring unit is active. But on this particular day, a flare with tremendous height and an excessive amount of black smoke caught the attention of the residents and many others from around the Shreveport-Bossier area. To those around the refinery and to the many that came to investigate and take pictures they were very surprised at what they saw.
No one had any explanation of what was happening and no explanation was ever given to the community by the refinery, city police or fire department, or any government agency. As you can imagine, many were concerned and scared about their health and families. From a news report, the smoke could be seen as far as 5 miles away.
Both news coverage teams in the area did a story on the accident but both were as brief as 10 seconds. I personally was interviewed but it was never shown. Both news teams reported that it was a scheduled burn-off from the refinery. Even if it was scheduled, some notice should have been given before.
A local grassroots organization that I am a member of, Residents for Air Neutralization, was on the scene prepared with the EPA approved Bucket given by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to take air samples. A concerned member, Ronald White said “It is ridiculous of what we have to go through every day and nothing is being done.”
Upon further investigation by the R.A.N.’s president Velma White, she gained the truth about the accident. When she contacted the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, she was told that the enormous flare was caused by a power surge due to the storm. Calumet’s monitors were knocked off line and it allowed much more of the chemicals that were being burned to escape. The flare continued for approximately an hour and a half.
If that much amount of chemical burn-off was allowed to happen, it is unknown how much the community was exposed to, especially since for the last few months Calumet’s flaring unit has been on a constant flare and it gets heavier at around two o’clock in the morning when most of the community is asleep. The refinery should have back-up generators or some system in place to prevent such accidents. How much more should the community have to take before justice is done?