Mardi Gras Re-Made in New Orleans

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By Erik Paskewich, Social Entrepreneur

Growing up in New Orleans means that you think a lot of strange things are normal. It’s normal to eat pounds of mud-dwelling crustaceans. It’s normal to shut down the city for a few days at the even the possible threat of ice. It’s normal to talk too loud, eat and drink too much, and dance until the sun comes up. New Orleans has a different mindset about how life is supposed to be and no event represents that better than Mardi Gras.

Trying to describe Mardi Gras to someone who has never been is ultimately a futile task. No description can truly convey the feelings I have when I see St. Augustine’s Marching 100 playing on St. Charles Avenue. Nothing can recreate the companionship of seeing the same faces at your spot on the parade route year after year. Nothing can capture the feeling of seeing people of from every background get together to dance in the streets. The entire tradition is uniquely New Orleans. Although you may find other Mardi Gras celebrations in other cities, there is nothing quite like our version. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, in my opinion, is definitively the best party in the world. Believe it or not, the party can still be improved.

The biggest contradiction of Mardi Gras involves the item that everyone at the parade is vying for: the beads. If you’ve gone to enough Mardi Gras parades, you can say that you’ve seen people do outrageous things for a nice strand of beads. High quality beads can bring out the competitive, rambunctious side of normally mild-mannered people. On the other hand, more and more people are dodging the cheaper beads that are thrown in bulk. These cheaply made beads lay on the ground after the parade is over. Most people cannot be bothered to even bend over to pick up the cheaper plastic beads as they lay on the ground. Even fewer people actually think about where the beads came from and where they will go after the last float passes.

Louisiana is paying a price for the cheap beads on the ground. We import these beads from factories in China with poor working conditions. The beads are cheaply made, generic, and toxic. They fill our landfills and leach toxic chemicals into the water table. The beads do not reflect the rich and vibrant culture of Louisiana.

The people of Louisiana are fiercely proud of their home state. New Orleanians can even be described as being “proud of their pride.” This is how local chains such as K&B and Hubig’s Pies became cherished New Orleans traditions. Cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solutions that seem to work in every other city are rarely embraced by New Orleans. Why, then, do the core products of New Orleans’ most famous tradition not reflect this pride? After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the mentality of Louisiana became one of self-reliance. I see no reason that this should not extend to Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras should reflect the values of New Orleans. New Orleans is unique, inventive, and self-reliant. We can make our own Mardi Gras throws and we can do it better than anyone else. While manufacturing jobs are disappearing across the country, we have the opportunity to bring jobs back into Louisiana by making our own Mardi Gras throws. We can create one-of-a-kind works of art to throw at our parades. Everyone wants a Zulu coconut or a Muses shoe. Most people display these throws on their mantle in their homes as a sort of trophy after Mardi Gras. No one displays a trash bag of cheap beads on their mantle after a parade. Let’s focus on quality over quantity so that every throw is worth putting up on the mantle.

Zombeads, a social enterprise owned by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, makes sustainable, local Mardi Gras throws. In addition to custom throws, Zombeads offers hand-rolled paper beads, handbags made from discarded rice bags, key chains made from recycled window shutters, ceramic doubloons, and burlap voodoo dolls. All profits support the Bucket Brigade’s work in fighting air pollution. For more information click here or email info@zombeads.biz.

Posted in Mardi Gras, Public Health, social enterprise | Leave a comment

Caught in the Act

bio photo cropped 2By Amelia Rhodewalt, Volunteer Coordinator

“Did you see or smell it?” It’s Friday, January 31st, and I’m handing out cards with this headline in the Standard Heights community of Baton Rouge. The LABB Emergency Response Team has deployed for the second time this week, due to yet another refinery accident. On Monday January 27th between 4 and 5 pm, we received three reports to our iWitness Pollution Map, all describing flaring at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery.

One community member described, “Exxon is flaring and I hear some rumbling noise and also sound like air sounds, like air is trying to get out. And I also smelled something like burnt air or burnt rubber in the air.” Another person reported, “It’s been burning for maybe 30-40 minutes.” A third reporter captured a photo of the flare from their backyard.

“Did you see or smell it?” We knew that at least three Standard Heights residents had. Apparently ExxonMobil did not. In addition to the community reports compiled on our iWitness Pollution Map, we also include the refinery’s self reports to the National Response Center (NRC). We never received an NRC report from ExxonMobil for the Monday, January 27th incident, meaning they never reported it to the authorities.

Flare from ExxonMobil Baton Rouge captured by an iWitness Pollution Map reporter.

What’s the big deal? Refineries flare — emit smoke and flames from their stacks — all the time. It’s a safety practice to reduce pollution by “burning off” hazardous emissions. This is the public image that flares have, when in fact they’re indicators of potentially harmful emissions. Emissions are calculated as if flares consistently burn off 99% of the hazardous materials released, when in reality, flares are rarely so successful. How do we know? We smell it. We feel it. The iWitness Pollution Map consistently shows reports of odor and health effects accompanying flares.

The community reports on the iWitness Pollution Map point to flares as indicators of operations gone wrong. But don’t take our word for it. EPA reports from as far back as 2000 cite frequent flaring as bad practice that “results in unacceptably high releases of sulfur dioxide and other noxious pollutants.” Flaring for more than five minutes in a two-hour period is a violation of the Clean Air Act. If you’ll remember, one reporter described the flare as lasting 30 to 40 minutes — well above the maximum 5 minutes.

So the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery violated the Clean Air Act as well as neglecting to report their release. It’s frustrating to see this blatant disregard of the conditions around the refinery.

Talking to those in the Standard Heights community next to ExxonMobil, it’s evident that they’re frustrated too. When I explain what I’m doing on their doorstep, the most common response is that they regularly notice smoke, flames, and bad smells coming from the refinery. It’s clear that poor air quality is a part of everyday life in communities in the shadows of refineries.

After almost three hours of fieldwork, the sky is getting dark. I pass a group of kids playing outside and approach one of my final houses for the day. A slender, confident girl of about 9 jumps off her bike and runs up to me. “I think my mom’s in the back… This way.” I follow her to the back door, where she ducks under the screen and yells for Mom. I wait by the laundry room and watch the kids playing on the street. When her mother comes to the door, I ask if she noticed anything on Monday and she immediately describes the thick, gray cloud of smoke coming from ExxonMobil. “It smelled so bad, I kept my children inside,” she tells me, concerned. The kids are yelling and chasing each other on their bikes. What a choice — let your child play and worry for their health, or keep them inside all evening? How often does she have to make this decision? How often does she see or smell something, not knowing what it is, or how it is affecting her and her family?

“Did you see or smell it?” During our time in Standard Heights, we got at least 6 more reports to the map from residents who remembered the flaring on Monday at ExxonMobil. How could ExxonMobil act like nothing had happened? The people of the Standard Heights, Chalmette, and other fenceline communities are real. Their experiences are real, and their health should be a priority. If the refineries won’t report their accidents, we, the residents of Louisiana, will. Text, call, email, or use the website to report what you see and smell to the iWitness Pollution Map.

Posted in Emergency Response Team, ExxonMobil, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, Grassroots Mapping- Gulf Coast, Oil Refineries, Public Health | Leave a comment

Reflections from the field: Emergency Response in Chalmette

Bio PicBy Erik Paskewich, Social Entrepreneur

On Monday afternoon we deployed to Chalmette to conduct outreach to increase the usage of the Bucket Brigade’s iWitness Pollution Map. As a new employee of the Bucket Brigade, this was my first chance to go out into the field to interact with community members. Growing up in Louisiana, I thought I had an understanding of the pollution issues around the state. After deploying to a fenceline community in Chalmette, I learned so much about an area that I originally thought I knew well.

Because the oil industry is such a large part of Louisiana’s economy, issues such as pollution are often met with tension. Talking about pollution can be a taboo topic in some communities in Louisiana. However, I found that the overwhelming majority of members of the fenceline communities in Chalmette were happy to hear from us. In nearly every house, someone was affected in some way or another by the pollution coming over the fence from the nearby refineries.

At each house, I explained the importance of using the iWitness Pollution Map. The map is a tool that allows communities to work together to monitor air quality. While conducting surveys, I spoke to mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. The level of concern varied from house to house. However, the common theme among each household that I spoke to was the agreement that the neighborhood smelled of various chemicals on a frequent basis.

Many of the houses expressed relief that I showed up at their door. Some people welcomed the opportunity to vent about their industrial neighbors. Nearly everyone had colorful language to describe the claim that no pollution was travelling over the refinery fence into the community.

They described a variety of different effects. One man described a dust that covered his car and required him to clean his car frequently. When I asked another man whether he smelled anything strange last week, he laughed and said that his front yard smelled more often than not. One mother spoke in grave tones saying that she thought she would die of lung cancer one day.

The iWitness Pollution Map allows communities to have a voice. I believe that many of these households want to see a change in their neighborhood. The people in Chalmette that I spoke to were hard-working people who deserve clean air. Going forward, I hope members of the community can work together to document the air quality in their neighborhood so that each person can demand change.

Reporting to the iWitness Pollution Map is an easy process and the contents of the map are incredibly beneficial to fenceline communities. Entire communities can make their voices heard through a group effort to report pollution to the iWitness Pollution Map. Without diligent reporting, incidents of pollution are not documented and it is as if it never actually happened.  If you live in an area of Louisiana near industrial pollution, I encourage you to use the map every time you experience pollution. Please call or text 504-272-7645 if you have experienced pollution in your area. A quick phone call or text can empower your community to take matters into their own hands.

Posted in Chalmette Refining, Emergency Response Team, ExxonMobil, Grassroots Mapping- Gulf Coast, Oil Refineries, Public Health, RAIN CII | Leave a comment

When It Rains It Oils in St. Bernard Parish

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By Andy Zellinger, Research Analyst

Updates on Valero Meraux’s October oil spray

pictures of Valero turnaround

At 2 PM on Friday, October 25th Valero Refinery in Meraux, LA reported a large discharge of crude oil from a rupture in a crude unit to the National Response Center. This crude unit in the refinery had a series of small explosions and a fire in the summer of 2012. This pattern of accidents not only poses threats to families’ health, but also demonstrates Valero’s inability to operate a refinery safely. Valero initially reported “a small amount of oil” from a plug on the pipeline that crosses the highway caused the closure. Then, they said a malfunctioning tank was the source; finally they settled on a rupture in the crude units. Valero has submitted an initial written notification report, subsequently a follow-up notification report, and final follow-up notification to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality which contains more conclusive details now that the investigation is complete.

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[Photo credit: WDSU.com]

The rupture spilled an estimated 200 barrels – or 8,400 gallons – of crude oil onto the Mississippi River, drivers on St. Bernard Highway, as well as cars and homes on the east bank plus the west bank of the river in Belle Chasse. The sheen in the Mississippi was approximately 400 square feet – the size of a two car garage. Valero deployed absorbent boom to contain the sheen, but it had largely dissipated.

The rupture occurred during maintenance activities; the Louisiana Bucket Brigade strongly advocates maintenance, but it must be performed cautiously. When refiners cut corners to minimize production loss, disastrous accidents can happen. The cause of this rupture was an improperly measured maintenance device – but the third party contractor working on it was not given the proper protocol by his employer or Valero personnel – therefore this accident was preventable.

After the spill, Valero mobilized contractors to clean up East St. Bernard Highway and the barge moored at their dock. The Highway opened about 4.5 hours later, and the barge was able to sail the following day. Valero offered car washes to those affected. Residents have complained the car wash was inadequate, and the business that provided that service admitted they didn’t know how to properly clean an oiled vehicle. Valero may have to consider pending legal action from residents whose vehicles have damaged body paint.

Residents were concerned for both their oiled properties, and also for their personal health. According to their spokeswoman, the LDEQ air monitoring team was unable to detect the presence of any hazardous chemicals, but Valero personnel conducted their own air monitoring which did show detectable quantities of the cancer-causing pollutant benzene. According to their final report, Valero detected a peak value of 0.15 ppm at the fenceline along St. Bernard Highway. This is a dangerous concentration of benzene for both workers and residents. The NIOSH recommended workplace exposure limit for benzene is set at 0.10 ppm – therefore workers lacking respirators throughout the entire spill were exposed to harmful levels of benzene.  Based on laboratory analysis of the spilled oil the total benzene released by this event was 70.7 lbs; exceeding the state’s legal threshold for accidental emissions of benzene.

The following business day, Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s Accident Response Team (ART) deployed to the Meraux, Louisiana to conduct health surveys that document the impacts on the local community. The results of our health surveys indicate this accident harmed the fenceline community’s public health. Residents reported they were upset that the refinery did not use alarms or sirens. After health surveys were conducted it appears very likely that some residents experienced symptoms of acute benzene poisoning. Of the 40 residents surveyed:

35% reported mental health effects
7.5% experienced fear
7.5% experienced anxiety
12.5% reported headaches
7.5% reported respiratory irritation
2.5% reported eye irritation

Issues with delayed maintenance on sulfur control technologies at Valero Refining – Meraux

Valero Energy Corp’s Meraux, Louisiana refinery had a series of recent problems with properly maintaining units. Refining crude petroleum oil and gas with higher levels of sulfur – referred to as “sour crude” – yields higher levels of sulfur byproducts that require sour water strippers to limit the sulfur content of end products including gasoline to meet purity standards.  Once the sulfur has been scrubbed out of oil, the facility attempts to recover as much as possible in the Sulfur Recovery Units in order to limit flaring of harmful pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide and to profit from selling the sulfur as feedstock to other plants. Valero Meraux processes between 50 percent and 80 percent medium-sour crude – which yields high amounts of sulfur. Considering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently decreed all of St. Bernard Parish is a designated “nonattainment” area for violations of the 2010 SO2 National Ambient Air Quality Standard, it seems obvious to recommend that Valero invest more time and money into improving sulfur control technologies. Valero Meraux is permitted for larger levels of sulfur dioxide emissions, but has a smaller refining capacity than Valero St. Charles. Valero’s Meraux plant has 125,000-135,000 barrels per day capacity and is permitted to release 753 tons per year SO2, whereas the St. Charles facility has 270,000 barrel per day capacity emitting only 238 tons per year sulfur dioxide. Seeing how Valero Energy operates other refineries along the Gulf Coast with better control technology that results in lower emissions, it is clear that there is room for improvement in Meraux. Since the Nonattainment designation there has been recent sulfur dioxide spikes in violation of the federal limit recorded by air monitoring data from St. Bernard Parish.

The Sulfur Recovery Unit at Valero may have been malfunctioning for the past 5 years. Valero’s sulfur dioxide emissions have been decreasing since 2008; however testing indicated increasing efficiency of the Sulfur Recovery Units has directly led to permit exceedances for other pollutants. Increased CO and NOx emissions pose a serious threat to public health for St. Bernard residents. Valero filed this letter to the LDEQ; on October 18, 2013 requesting permit variances for months rather than immediately fixing the issues. Valero submitted this variance request in response to the routine CO and NOx stack testing conducted every 5 years as required by the EPA. While it is impossible to determine when the No. 2 SRU incinerator began malfunctioning, it is certain that it occurred sometime between the April 2008 and August 2013 stack tests. If stack testing were required more frequently the harmful emissions could have been avoided.

Conclusion

The Meraux facility evidently has issues with forgone or delayed maintenance resulting in accidental emissions. The issues associated with Valero’s Sulfur Recovery Unit are part of a larger emissions problem in St. Bernard Parish. The high levels of sulfur dioxide emitted from refineries and other petrochemical production facilities in St. Bernard Parish led to the air quality failing federal health standards. Valero Meraux needs to invest in the maintenance of control equipment. It will not suffice for refineries to invest in turnarounds which are delayed or abbreviated; cutting corners to save time and money. Investments in better control technologies and proper maintenance of such units are essential to protecting public health. Once these investments are made there needs to be more frequent emissions testing in order to keep units properly operating which are intended to reduce the impact on neighboring communities.

Posted in Accident Response Team, Field Canvass, Oil Refineries, Oil spills, Public Health, Valero, Valero Meraux | 1 Comment

iWitness Map Monthly Report – December 2013

December 2013 iWitness Map Report

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Why Supporting Emergency Response is Important

Anna Hrybyk 2By Anna Hrybyk, Program Manager

Why should you donate?  Because arming people with tools to document pollution builds our strength to hold polluters accountable.

Louisiana refineries average 6 accidents per week. Day in and day out we see industry claim that their accidents have “no offsite impact” as if they have some magic fence that keeps their millions of pounds and gallons of chemicals out of our air and water.  It is up to all of us to provide the documentation that proves they have no magic fence.

Our Emergency Response Team was created to systematically document the health impacts of petrochemical accidents on nearby neighborhoods.  Our door-to-door team conducts health surveys and trains people to report their experiences in their own words to the iWitness Pollution Map via phone, text or email (iwitnesspollution.org). What follows is the story of a spring day in 2013 that may have gone unnoticed if it were not for hundreds of people exercising their power to speak up about the quality of the air they were breathing.
I’m at odeon ave I smell, gas, burnt rubber it made me feel sick and threw up, head hurt”  Text Message to the iWitness Pollution Map, April 4th, 2013.

On April 3rd, 2013, ExxonMobil’s Chalmette Refinery reported a leak of “wastewater” which they later declared was from corrosion.  There were 124 citizen reports to the iWitness Pollution Map between April 3rd and April 4th about the chemical smell in the New Orleans metro area. The first one came in at 12:30 AM reporting an overwhelming tar smell.  On April 4th, LABB’s Emergency Response Team deployed to Algiers on the West Bank because report locations on the map confirmed the wind direction that day was pushing the chemicals from Chalmette across the river into Algiers, Uptown New Orleans as far as Harahan and Marrero.

LDEQ was driving all over the metro area looking for the source of the stink. Meanwhile, in the neighborhood across the river from Chalmette Refining, LABB’s Emergency Response Team was interviewing 110 residents about what they experienced during the accident.  That day 92 people reported chemical odors to our team and 55 people reported health effects associated with the chemical smell, including respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, and eye irritation.  The evidence of “offsite impact” was undeniable.  Chalmette Refinery publicly apologized and set up a claims number for the accident.

Without your support, companies will continue to blow off the serious impacts of their accidents with statements like “no off-site impacts,” “no harmful chemicals were released” and “no threats to public health.”  Don’t let them get away with that.  Make a donation today.

Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Emergency Response Team, Oil Refineries, Public Health | Leave a comment

November iWitness Map Monthly Report

molly_bio_picBy Molly Brackin, Monitoring & Evaluation Associate

The number of citizen reports to the iWitness Pollution Map is down from 121 in October to 74 in November. Hopefully this dip in reporting is due to safer refining practices, as the number of National Response Center reports is down as well. Unfortunately, 43 of the 166 NRC reports in the month of November came from Onshore Facilities (read: refineries and chemical companies). That means there was an average of 1.4 accidents a day last month, which means that Louisiana refineries still have lots of room for improvement.

For better or worse, oil is a big part of Louisiana’s economy- which is all the more reason to demand cleaner, safer refineries. Louisianians should’t have to compromise our health and our environment’s health for money. Residents should continue to advocate for best practices in refineries. Speak out about the pollution in your community, because if you don’t it’s like it never happened.
November 2013 iWitness Report
Posted in Calumet Lubricants, Chalmette Refining, ExxonMobil, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, Oil Refineries, Public Health, RAIN CII, Shell, Shell Motiva, Valero, Valero Meraux | Leave a comment

October 2013 iWitness Map Report

molly_bio_picBy Molly Brackin, Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

The month of October saw a spike in reporting from citizens in both Baton Rouge and the Chalmette/Meraux area. The 46 reports that came in from the Chalmette/Meraux area are of particular interest, because of the accident that happened at the Valero Meraux Refinery on Friday, October 25th during which crude oil spewing from the refinery hit cars and school buses and shut down St. Bernard Highway for several hours. The first citizen report about the accident came in to the iWitness Pollution map 27 minutes after Valero made a report to the National Response Center. These citizen reports are significant, because Valero’s NRC report only addressed the release of oil into the Mississippi River. The influx of citizen and news reports prompted the Bucket Brigade to deploy our Emergency Response Team. The influx of iWitness reports from the Chalmette/Meraux area are a direct result of this deployment. In addition to gathering health survey results, which can be seen in the previous post, the Bucket Brigade was able to raise awareness about the map and the importance of reporting. The Valero Meraux accident affected more than just the Mississippi River, which is something that came to light because of the diligence of the citizens of the community.

October 2013 iWitness Map report final

Posted in Emergency Response Team, ExxonMobil, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, Grassroots Mapping- Gulf Coast, Oil Refineries, Oil spills, Public Health, Rapid Response Team, Valero, Valero Meraux | Leave a comment

Valero Meraux Accident Response Survey Results

Meraux health survey and iwitness summary for release

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Heartbreaking iWitness Report

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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.

http://www.oilspill.labucketbrigade.org/reports/view/12010

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.”

Posted in Chalmette Refining, ExxonMobil, Oil Refineries, Public Health, Worker Health | 2 Comments