Refinery chemical discharge not harmful say state officials, yet concerns persist

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wwltv.com

Posted on October 11, 2011 at 4:40 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 11 at 6:23 PM

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

CHALMETTE, La.-- Operations appeared to be back to normal at Chalmette Refining on Tuesday, after a chemical discharge the night before. People living across the Mississippi River in Algiers described the smell as a foul odor.

"I was laying down in my bed, looking at the football game and I smelled something,"  said Kent Ross of Algiers. "I thought it was a raw sewer."

The incident report from the National Response Center shows the refinery discharge involved two chemicals: a release of 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide.

Both chemicals can be toxic in large enough amounts, but the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said the amounts released last night do not pose a health threat.

"It was elevated, but not to the point of alarm," said Jeff Dauzat with the LDEQ. "It was barely over the 8-hour limit and that was the only reading that they got. The rest of them were below."

A preliminary investigation by the LDEQ found that one of two sulfur units at the refinery went offline. The other unit was undergoing maintenance and when the chemicals had nowhere to go, they went up through a flare.

"It does burn some of it off, but it was unable to capture all of it," Dauzat said.

However, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which monitors refineries, said the incident highlights ongoing problems at the Chalmette refinery.

"The Chalmette refinery - if it weren't so sad, you'd laugh," said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "Since 2005, they've had over 400 accidents. What happened last night is that they let out a very dangerous chemical. But then, they tried to tell the public that there was no problem. That really defies common sense."

It is a smell that residents in Algiers said they have smelled before, but never as strong as it was on Monday night.

"This is the worst I ever smelled it," Ross said.

A spokesperson for Chalmette Refining tells Eyewitness News that the refinery is working to improve its operation and apologized for any inconvenience the chemical release caused. The LDEQ said the investigation into exactly what led to the release is ongoing.

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