Fire in the Sky: A Day in Norco

typhotoTy Siddiqui, Field Manager

The town of Norco (or New Orleans Refining Company) has a lot of problems, and almost all of them have to do with their namesake refineries.  The residents have dealt with deadly explosions, noxious fumes, and pillars of fire (that look like the Tower of Sauron from a distance).  Indeed, you could equate the look of this “city of pipes” and its nighttime backdrop with Mordor (for those of you who aren’t geeks like me, these are references to The Lord of the Rings trilogy).

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade sent out its Rapid Response Team this past Friday to discover the impact of a week-long flare (flare: chemical release through a tall tower that creates a conflagration in the sky when the chemicals reach the pilot light at the apex of the tower) on residents.  I was part of the action, and had the opportunity to interview 13 concerned households.  Most of them have resided in Norco for 10+ years, and they couldn’t remember the last time the flare lasted for so long, or had been so big.

Most of the reactions included annoyance.  The flare was loud (one person said it was a “jet engine from hell”) and it was bright (another said she didn’t need to turn on her lights at night).  Several people complained that they were unable to sleep because of both the noise and light.  A few people said they were virtually unaffected by it, but were quick to add that they were used to sights like these, because they have lived in Norco for so long.

Then there were the few people that came forward complaining of irritated eyes, headaches and light-headedness, dripping sinuses, and skin irritation. They began their physical complaints on the day the flare began (Sunday, December 2nd), and the symptoms have yet to abate (which isn’t surprising, since the flare is still burning).  These people had no idea what was being pumped into their air, but I did.

I explained that the chemical release that began on Sunday (which created a giant plume of black smoke described by one person as “huge spiraling demon horns”) released three main chemicals: benzene, butadiene, and hydrogen sulfide.  The third chemical causes respiratory issues.  The first two are known carcinogens.  These chemicals are released on almost a regular basis in this part of Louisiana, which is why the region has earned the moniker “Cancer Alley.”

For those who are unsure as to what’s going on at the local refineries, search for “2012 Norco Christmas Parade” on Facebook.  Click through the pictures, and you will undoubtedly see the black column of smoke that began appearing on the morning that the parade started rolling.  If the pictures have been removed by the time you read this (which is a strong possibility, as Motiva in Norco will try to cover their butt), you can take a look at this video.

This is what I saw in Norco on Friday, and what residents have to live with constantly.

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3 Responses to Fire in the Sky: A Day in Norco

  1. I can’t view this video. I also have a flare picture from 12/2 if you can give me an email to send it to you.

  2. Rosario D'Amico says:

    I work on Third st in Norco, and live in Ormond, the Monday after this started 12/3/12, I drove past the plant going to work and the fumes that were coming into my car were so bad my nose began to burn and I had a slight nose bleed from it. This occured the entire work when going or leaving work, I changed my driving habits and went down the Airline and the problem did not occur, something in those releases are not good.

  3. Pingback: The Return « NOLAFemmes

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