By Jay Colingham, MPH, LABB Research Associate
On June 22nd, the torch was lit. There were no opening ceremonies, no swimmers, no runners, and no revelry. In Norco, Louisiana, the summer torch drove residents indoors and out of sight and smell. Shell Motiva in Norco Louisiana started flaring nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds, and other toxicants into the air in a marathon length catastrophe.
Flares continued consistently for twelve days without any community notification. On several days, citizens reported flaring while the refinery did not report accidents to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality or National Response Center. Some reports stated that the flare fluctuated between 20 and 100 feet in height. While these violations are reprehensible by themselves, the duration of flaring exceeds the permissible time in a month under the refineries permit. The quantity of chemical exposure that is experienced by fence line neighbors and downwind residents increases the chances of disease.
A week earlier, residents reported enormous flares at this refinery beginning on June 15th and continuing on the 17th. Some observations were made from nearly twenty miles away and flames were distinctly visible from eight miles north. The NRC was not provided with reports of flaring, accident, or upset for these events.
Two local residents have stated by email that they witnessed flares on the four days with no reports of flaring but do not have photographs of the flare on those days. Their words are laden with fatigue and frustration in the process of holding the refinery accountable for exposing them to toxicants like butane and butadiene. Psychological symptoms for anxiety could come from living under the point source of pollutants that poison’s the air we breathe and a flame that could be moments from an explosion like the ones in 1973 and 1988.
Shell Motiva reported their flare to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality with a start date of June 28th and an undetermined end date. The accident is linked to reports at both Motiva Oil Refinery (AI#1406) and Shell Chemical Plant (AI#26336). A follow up is anticipated by both within 60 days of the July 3rd refinery letter. Preliminary chemical analysis shows that there was a diverse release of toxicants. 1,3 butadiene, benzene, carbon monoxide, ethylene, hexane, nitrogen oxides, PAH’s, sulfur dioxide, toluene, and volatile organic compounds are the identified compounds in the flare. No accident reports have been cleared by LDEQ for accidents between the 22nd and 27th of June.
As the Olympics continue, it is hard not to remember the flare at Shell Motiva that matches the imagery of the Olympic torch but is destructive and defeating the spirit of the people instead of providing encouragement and empowerment.