By Melissa Robbins, Petrochemical Accident Researcher
My name’s Melissa Robbins and I am a Petrochemical Accident Research intern at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. I recently graduated from Tulane University with a degree in public health. On Friday morning, the refinery efficiency initiative team decided to take a tour of Chalmette Refinery and Valero Meraux.
We made our first stop at Chalmette Battlefield, where the Battle of New Orleans took place in 1815. This location is also the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, where you can see the Chalmette Refinery where flaring and smoke could be seen in the distance. This is one of the only parks in the area where people can run while a getting a good view of the refinery and a close up experience of the surrounding refineries pollution.
There were two flares going simultaneously and it smelled like rotten eggs. We were met with a similar situation at Valero Meraux. A few team members complained of headaches and even felt light-headed and dizzy.
We then decided to ride the ferry across the Mississippi River to Algiers, where we had a great view of Valero and Chalmette Refinery. Earlier this year, the ferry captain of this boat nearly passed out from inhaling the toxic chemicals and the scheduled trips had to be cancelled for the rest of the day.
Luckily nobody was injured during this incident. The smell of burning sulfide compounds was in the air throughout the ride. This community is in a beautiful, historical part of the state and we had the pleasure of being able to eat lunch with them. For lunch, we ate at a place directly across from Chalmette Refinery, Rocky & Carlos. This is a popular lunch spot for refinery workers and locals.
As a Refinery Efficiency Initiative intern, I read reports of petrochemical accidents and many claim that there are no off-site impacts. However, the experience of the people in the community is probably much like the one we had. Even though we were only in the area for a day, we definitely felt some of the effects that these people are forced to deal with on a daily basis. The proper measures need to be taken to preserve and improve the air quality of this area. It is imperative that the refineries step up, take responsibility for their actions, and implement better quality checks to reduce the number of facility accidents. We can all work together to accomplish these goals.