Marcia Oursler, Petrochemical Accident Researcher: Comment on EO 13650

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By Marcia Oursler, Petrochemical Accident Researcher

Listening Session Public Comment

Executive Order #13650:  Improving Chemical Safety and Security

My name is Marcia Oursler and I have been with Louisiana Bucket Brigade since August 2013.

While many community members are aware of the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), some facilities within the state of Louisiana do not list up to date information.  When visiting the TRI website on a specific plant, the most recent year listed includes 2012, while we live in the year 2014.  Less than one month ago, community members in Shreveport became aware of chemicals in their air not from nearby industry communications, or a government website, but from a bucket analysis.  If it had not been for this bucket analysis, community members would not have been aware of these chemicals in their air.  Individuals have the right to know what chemicals are being pumped into the air they breathe at work and in their communities.

The bucket sample of which I am referring contained benzene, hydrogen sulfide, 2-butanone (also referred to as methyl ethyl ketone or MEK), chlorobenzene, n-hexane, propene, and toluene.  Benzene is an IARC group 1 carcinogen.  MEK and toluene both represent respiratory toxicants.  Hydrogen sulfide has been linked to exacerbate asthma attacks in addition to other respiratory diseases among residents in close proximity to emissions sources.  While requiring additional more thorough fenceline monitoring is necessary, public disclosure is also needed beyond when a permit limit or reportable quantity is exceeded.  The communities have the right to know what chemicals fill the air of what is in their backyard before accidents occur.

I urge OSHA to enhance information sharing.  I urge OSHA to find additional ways to work with stakeholders to identify best practices.  I also urge OSHA to adopt EPA’s policy for Risk Management Plan (RMP)-listed substances.  The federal government now has an opportunity to implement the precautionary principle.  Chemicals should only be used if proven to be safe to human health.  Various chemicals are used regularly in our state of Louisiana.  Many of these chemicals impact the health of vulnerable populations, especially in the form of respiratory effects.  I suggest that risk management plans be adjusted to include a more thorough list of chemicals for the benefit and welfare of both industry and surrounding communities.  In a world where synergistic relationships are not unheard of for varying substances, it is increasingly important for disclosure to be in the public knowledge.

I sincerely thank you all for your time and for your attention,

Marcia Oursler

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

Public Comment on EO 13650: Improving Chemical Safety & Security

 By Anna Hrybyk, Program ManagerAnna Hrybyk 2

Listening Session Public Comment

Executive Order #13650:  Improving Chemical Safety and Security

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.  My name is Anna Hrybyk and I have been the Program Manager at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade since 2008.  The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice non-profit whose mission is to support grassroots action to create an informed, healthy society whose culture holds the petrochemical industry and the government accountable for the true costs of pollution.

I have been working with neighborhoods living on the fencelines of the sprawling petrochemical industry across the state and the government agencies that serve them on the issue of improving chemical safety and security with the goal of preventing petrochemical accidents.  Our state of Louisiana is particularly vulnerable, being on the frontlines of both the causes and the effects of climate change.

Louisiana’s 17 refineries, 150 chemical plants, 60,000 oil wells and over 36,000 miles of pipelines produce the most oil and have the second largest refining capacity in the country[1].  Petrochemical accidents average 10 per week in Louisiana, according to the federal National Response Center.  “Since 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard has reported fielding more complaints of oil and chemical spills from the thousands of wells and thousands of miles of pipelines in Louisiana than in any other state, exceeding 4,000 a year.”[2]

There are over 200,000 people and 90 schools and daycares within two miles of a refinery in Louisiana.   Many of these communities are so close the facilities their foundations shake when the flare rumbles, they can hear workers inside the plant talking on the intercom and dangerous gases routinely emitted by the plants get trapped in people’s homes making it more dangerous to be inside than outside at times.

There are four areas that need strengthening in order to improve chemical safety and security and prevent petrochemical accidents.

  1. EPA’s Risk Management Plan Program

First, EPA’s Risk Management Plan program needs to improve its method of targeting of high risk facilities for inspections. I believe EPA’s targeting can be better if EPA correlates other information sent to OSHA, the National Response Center, the state police and the state department’s of environmental quality.  EPA currently only relies of what industry self-reports in their Risk Management Plans every five years.  As I will show, this Plan often contradicts what company’s report to the state and other federal agencies.

In October 2010, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade reviewed the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery Risk Management Plan (RMP) while visiting EPA Region VI in Dallas.  Our review shows that the RMP as written does not comply with CAA(r) 40 CFR Part 68 Accidental Release Prevention.

Though the facility’s RMP states that they have no accident history to report for any of the processes covered by the RMP, the refinery’s own upset reports show that EMBRR has reported the following to the LDEQ and/or State Police from 2005-2010.

No. Unit/Process Number of incident reports to LDEQ involving unit Amount of pollution reported (pounds)
1 Alkylation

11

68,210

2 HHLA

2

23,737

3 HCLA

2

235,614

4 PHLA

3

13,085

5 RHLA

3

272,455

6 T-210

2

BRQ

7 ICN

4

12,720

8 LEU

1

141,780

9 Propane Storage

3

4,239

10 Gas Collection

1

5,347

11 PCLA

5

149,099

TOTAL

37

926,286

None of these were self-reported to EPA’s Risk Management Plan as required by law.  Some of these incidents were catastrophic.  On May 7, 2009, an incident on the PCLA unit (LDEQ#114733) led to Carbon Monoxide exposure among nine employees.  According to OSHA, this occurred because the venture nozzles were corroded, including one steel shell that had rusted to the point where the material was paper-thin.  Fires were frequent at EM BRRF in 2010.  On April 14, 2010 a flash fire occurred at the refinery sending two contract workers and one EM employee to the burn unit at Baton Rouge General Hospital.  No information was given regarding the root cause of the fire.  This was the second of five fires at the facility in 2010.

Second, increase the number of RMP inspectors working in Region VI because of the high volume of hazardous facilities located in populated areas.  Currently there is only one inspector and one trainee based out of Houston.  That is nowhere near enough to prevent accidents.

Third, improve the enforcement of violations found in the RMP inspections to make sure they are concrete, meaningful actions toward the prevention of accidents.    After a 2011 RMP Inspection of the Calumet Refinery in Shreveport which found nine violations including failure to accurately report, failure to inspect equipment and monitor for hydrogen sulfide, the community had to wait two and a half years until EPA and Calumet agreed on the penalty.  In November 2013, EPA and Calumet agreed on a civil penalty of a little more than $300,000 and required the installation of 32 fenceline sensors that test for sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and flammable vapors.  The data from those sensors was not required to be made publicly available therefore the enforcement action does little to improve chemical safety and security.

Also, EPA conducted an RMP inspection of ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery (mentioned above) in June 2012 and there still has been no penalty issued by the EPA for the violations found in that inspection.  Violations include failure to accurately report and the failure to inspect, test and maintain over 1,000 lines in the facility despite pervasive corrosion.  If the RMP program is going to prevent accidents, then enforcement of the violations found in the inspections needs to be timely and strong enough to deter non-compliant behavior in the future.

2.  Local Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPCs)

The Local Emergency Planning Commissions are great in theory, but in practice they are not legally enforceable (meaning you cannot force a defunct LEPC to meet or include community representatives for example) and they have no enforcement power to preventing accidents.  In October 2011, LABB conducted a review of the East Baton Rouge Parish Local Emergency Planning Commission’s (LEPC) Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) and found it in violation of EPCRA Sections 301-303.  The East Baton Rouge Parish EOP fails to protect the neighborhood living within 2 miles of the EM BRRF in the event of an accidental release.

  • Although the EOP is supposed to be reviewed annually, there appears to have been no review since 2009.
  • The EOP does not provide information about chemicals in the community or any information regarding key facilities and hazardous transportation routes within their community.
  • The EOP does not show a designated community coordinator to help implement the plan.  The LEPC also makes no mention of a community member serving on their committee.
  • The EOP does not mention any specific populations/neighborhoods that are susceptible to threats.
  • The EOP shows the locations of sirens within the parish, for notification in the event of an emergency, but it does not go into detail about what citizens are supposed to do once they hear a notification over the siren, which petrochemical facilities use the sirens and who is designated to maintain the sirens.
  • The EOP does not state specific dates when training exercises will be executed, or how often they should be executed. It also does not incorporate specific facilities and/or community members in the training plans.
  • The plan makes no mention of environmental monitoring and/or sampling during and post-incident.

If the LEPCs are to be taken seriously by industry and emergency responders from various agencies, then the LEPC needs to be better funded and given enforcement discretion.  This in turn will ensure that LEPCs are more involved during the response to chemical emergencies as well as in the prevention of them.

3.  Improving information for first responders and impacted communities

One best practice in improving chemical information for first responders and impacted communities living nearby to industrial hazards is requiring fenceline monitoring on the periphery of all plants located in populated areas.   Currently the Clean Air Act does not require this and a change in the rule is necessary in order to protect communities.  Fenceline monitoring should monitor for multiple pollutants that are known to adversely affect health (i.e. benzene, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and a range of volatile organic compounds) the data it collects should be made available to the public in real time.  Often simply public disclosure of air monitoring information can improve compliance of the facility.  This effort requires no funds from EPA  – only a well-written rule requirement of industry.  This effort will also go long way in operationalizing the precautionary principle.

The best fenceline monitoring system that we have seen put in place and  provides the best quality data on emissions is the recent Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California following the huge fire in 2012 that sent thousands to the hospital.

  1. Community air monitoring stations (Continuous Auto Gas Chromatograph, MetONE PM Sampler, TO-15 Discrete Grab Samples) located in all residential areas within 1 mile of a petrochemical complex measuring for PM 2.5, PAHs, H2S, ammonia, ozone, benzene, toluene, ethylene, xylene 1,3 Butadiene, dichloromethane, carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and ethylbenzene.
  1. Continuous Open Path UV and Continuous Boreal Tunable Diode Lasers along all perimeters of a petrochemical complex next to residential areas testing for benzene, toluene, p-Xylene, sulfur dioxide, carbon disulfide and hydrogen sulfide.

4.   Improving Chemical Safety Board

Lastly, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has very skilled inspectors who astutely analyze chemical accidents and make recommendations on how to prevent them in the future.  The CSB reports are accurate and well written but the CSB as it exists today has no enforcement discretion to hold the industry and government accountable for following its expert recommendations.  This Executive Order would be well served to give the CSB enforcement discretion to see that its recommendations are carried out much like the RMP program is.

Thank you for your time and attention to my comments.

Sincerely,

Anna Hrybyk
Program Manager
Louisiana Bucket Brigade

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

January iWitness Map Monthly Report

molly_bio_picBy Molly Brackin, Monitoring & Evaluation Associate

January began as a relatively light month for refinery accident reports. The numbers of both citizen and NRC reports were down from previous month, which could either indicate that refineries were doing better or that no one was reporting. Either way, the accident rate picked up again in the last week of January. The LABB Emergency Response Team (ERT) deployed to both Chalmette and Baton Rouge in response to a flurry of reports that came into the iWitness Pollution Map. We went to Chalmette on January 27th because of the various reports detailing an odor permeating throughout the area. While we were talking to the residents of Chalmette we received word of high flaring coming from the ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge. A few days later, on January 31st, the LABB ERT deployed to the Standard Heights neighborhood in Baton Rouge to talk to residents about what the saw and smelled during the flaring event. It is important to note that the incidents we responded to in Chalmette and Baton Rouge have no corresponding NRC reports from facilities. I cannot stress how important it is for Louisiana residents to report their experiences with pollution, because it is obvious that lack of reporting from facilities will continue to be a problem in 2014.

January 2014 iWitness Map report_Page_1

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

Mardi Gras Re-Made in New Orleans

Bio Pic

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

20130305_172018

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