Heartbreaking iWitness Report


By Molly Brackin, Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

On Friday, October 25th the following report came into the iWitness Pollution map:

April 3, 2013 Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette Refinery

The article in the newspaper read that the leak happened at 7:00 am on April 3rd. I worked the night shift from 4:30 pm to 4:30 am. On April 4th, I remember feeling really tired and overly nauseous. That week I worked at the dock, it smelt worse then usual. Earlier that afternoon I was driven to the dock by Derek one of the security managers. He told me that there had been some  sort of leak that afternoon. He didn’t seem to know much information about what had happened. He had said he drove through the refinery and seen Exxon employees wearing mask, he became nervous and quickly drove away from that area. That night I remember feeling pressure in my lower stomach as if she was pushing down preparing for birth.

At 4:30 am, I got off of work and drove to Kiln, MS to pick up my son to bring him to the hospital for surgery. When we arrived at the hospital I sat in the waiting room, I decided to  drink some coffee that had a really bad taste I began to feel nauseous, again. When surgery was finally done on my son I went back to see him. When I reached his bed I felt faint. I then stumbled to the bathroom and threw up. After, I walked back to check on my son, the nurses were worried about me and brought me some water. I told them I was pregnant so then they were not so concerned.  All of these side effect I was experiencing was not normal to my pregnancy, I had never had morning sickness nor was I feeling the baby kick any longer.

I thought this was normal due to how far along I was although I did feel pressure as if she was pushing down all the way up to delivery. My plan was to return back to work on April 5th, hoping my son would feel better. His surgery did not go as smoothly as planned and he was in a lot of pain. So I decided to stay home to take care of him. I returned to work on April 7th and worked until the 8th. I woke up the morning of April 9th the shorts I was sleeping in was wet. When I went to the bathroom a yellowish clear color filled my underwear and shorts. This was very alarming. In reality I knew it wasn’t good but in my head nothing could prepare me for what I was about to face.

When I reached the hospital they immediately began to try and find her heartbeat when I should of been scared, I thought well maybe they just are not experience enough or maybe her heartbeat is less then usual. I began to think that I would have to deliver her that day which kind of excited me to finally see my baby. They brought in the sonogram machine and no one was telling me anything, that should of been the give away. Soon after the sonogram the doctor came to tell me the worse news ever. On April 10th I delivered my stillborn little girl. Her poor face had looked burnt as if a chemical burnt her.

After delivery I tried to cope as best as possible. For the next several months my tongue had felt tingly and numb. I allowed it to continue thinking it was nothing but it was just odd for this to happen right after losing my girl. I no longer wanted to continue working for this plant because it would of been a constant reminder to me of the loss of my girl. I can not help but blame this place for her death.


The accident that this woman is referring to happened at the ExxonMobil Chalmette Refinery around 1 AM on April 3rd, 2013. The first report of the accident to the National Response Center (NRC) came from a private residence.

NRC report #1042775 from private residence at 6:03 AM on 4/3/2013:

“Caller is reporting that there are several reports of a bad smell all around the city. The smell seems chemical in nature or possibly like tar. The USCG was able to smell it at the sector New Orleans office, also. Phone calls have been coming in from 911 dispatchers and fire departments reporting this incident to the USCG. At about 1:00 AM local the fire departments started getting reports.”

Three hours later, Chalmette Refining called in a report to the NRC.

NRC report #1042781 from Chalmette Refining at 9:06 AM on 4/3/2013:

“Caller reported that water had leaked from the Number 1 Flare drum”

  • The reported material was “waste water,” but in actuality it was flare condensate as evidenced by the fact that the reported point source was the Number 1 flare drum.
  • In the official report to the LDEQ, Chalmette Refining cites corrosion as the cause of the problem. The report states,

“Personnel identified a leak from a pipe near Tank 5502 at 0645 and positively identified the source as a discharge pipe from the Flare 1 knockout drum at 0708. Moderate to heavy rain water and insulation covering the pipe, made it difficult to identify the leak source. Initial notifications to LSP, LEPC, LDEQ, and NRC were made for potential RQ exceedances for 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene. The April 10th refinery letter estimates a release of 4.23 pounds of hydrogen sulfide, 0.21 pounds of benzene, and 31.7 pounds of total sulfur. The May 30th follow up letter updates the total sulfur value to 29.7 pounds. The root cause of failure was determined to be highly localized internal pipe corrosion.”

There were 124 citizen reports to the iWitness Pollution Map between 4/3/2013 and 4/4/2013 about the smell in the New Orleans metro area. The first one came in at 12:30 AM reporting an overwhelming tar smell.

In response to the Exxon Mobil Chalmette Refinery accident and all the complaints, the LDEQ deployed the Mobile Air Monitoring Lab on April 3rd, 4th, and 5th. The MAML was not deployed until hour 14 on April 3. According to the 7-day letter the incident started at 1:45 AM on April 3rd, 2013. Citizen complaints started coming into the St. Bernard Parish Sherriff’s Office around 2:25 AM on April 3rd. The MAML was deployed about 13 hours after the accident, and was taking samples upwind of both the refinery and the geographic location yielding increased iWitness reports coming into the map because of the smell.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade Emergency Response Team deployed on April 4th, 2013 as a result of the high number of reports to the iWitness Map.  The LABB Emergency Response Team conducts health surveys through personal conversations with residents affected by chemical accidents. During this deployment 110 residents of the Greater New Orleans area were interviewed; 55 of these residents reported health effects. Twenty-eight people reported respiratory problems, 22 had nausea, 19 had headaches, 10 had eye irritation and 2 went to the doctor.

In a call to the ExxonMobil hotline made by an LABB employee, an Exxon representative stated that there wasn’t anything going on at the refinery other the usual turn around and some flaring from the new unit at Chalmette Refining. A call by that same LABB employee to the Louisiana Hazmat hotline revealed that despite the fact that they had received numerous reports from individuals and Chalmette Refinery, the “incident” was labeled as “non-emergency.”

This entry was posted in Chalmette Refining, ExxonMobil, Oil Refineries, Public Health, Worker Health. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Heartbreaking iWitness Report

  1. What is the source of the woman’s story about her still-birth? It is a tragic story. Did it make the news?

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