By an Accident Response Team Member
We deployed to Geismar last Friday in response the Williams Olefins explosion that occurred the previous morning. Our goal in deploying was to make information of the accident known to those who live in close proximity to the facility, as well as compiling information regarding any related personal experiences and health effects these residents may be exhibiting in response to the accident and the subsequent release of chemicals. This information was collected with the purpose of informing the State of Louisiana of any possible dangers caused by this accident. We also were deployed to inform people of our iWitness Pollution Map so they may report and view information of possible future accidents.
So far, accounts of smelling and feeling any effect of the chemicals release seemed to be few. We were not expecting these reports to greatly increase in numbers by the end of the day. When we arrived, most people I talked to in the neighborhood reported not only seeing black smoke, but feeling the explosion, as well as smelling what was mostly described as burnt rubber. Some reported the smell as being very strong and almost intolerable. I talked to several families who experienced mild to very severe headaches as well as tearing eyes. While many of the residents were aware of the accident occurring, it seemed that many did not group the symptoms they were feeling with the accident that occurred. These residents often did not have a full idea of the chemicals held in the facility and the long and short-term effects these chemicals have on humans.
I must say, it did dishearten me a bit to hear stories of people being told to shelter in their home, but were still trapped in the chemical release because although warned against using their air conditioning units, the heat was too much for families to bear, especially families with children in the house. Residents often reported noticing similar smells in the past, but did not know of their dangers before this incident. They were happy to know that there is a community of people who look are looking out for them. They treated me very kindly and were very grateful for me coming out to talk to them about what was happening. It was a great day for us to be out there. By deploying so soon after the accident, we were able to bring light to some of the health issues people are suffering due to these chemical releases. My hope is that those who have suffered these health complications before learn to notice symptoms, especially if they happen around these accidents, and can take necessary steps to protect themselves. Then, this may be applied on a community wide scale so they have meetings and discussions around these issues.