NORCO, La. -- It started with "an operational upset" at the Shell-Motiva complex in Norco, followed by a loss of power in a unit a few days later. All of it added up to elevated flaring, which lasted for more than a week at the facility.
"It was roiling, roiling black smoke, which signifies that there is a malfunction going on," said Anna Hrybyk of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
The environmental watchdog group released information on Thursday, about a door-to-door survey they conducted during the flaring, in the neighborhoods around the refinery. Their researchers spoke to more than 100 people and said they found more than two-thirds of them experienced some kind of health impact during the flare.
"That included respiratory and eye irritation," Hrybyk said. "That included severe headaches, which is often a symptom of Benzene exposure."
Benzene is one four chemicals released during the flaring, according to what the company reported the National Response Center. The other chemicals released included Butadiene and Hydrogen Sulfide during the Dec. 2 incident and, during the second incident on Dec. 6, the addition of Nitric Oxide.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said they began air quality monitoring with a mobile lab, three days after the flaring began. A spokesperson said they did that, in part, because the agency received several complaints. Before that, the DEQ was relying on the company's self-reporting of air quality.
"The facilities are motivated to provide us accurate information, because if they don't, that's a criminal offense," said DEQ spokesperson Rodney Mallett. "The level that they did find of various pollutants were below any federal or state levels."
The Environmental Protection Agency and a third-party contractor also did monitoring. DEQ said they did not find abnormally high pollutants either. Still, the Bucket Brigade said they want to see more done.
"I would love to see the gaps in emergency response get filled in," Hrybyk said.
It is a flaring that DEQ described as "unusual" in how long it lasted, but they added, it did not rise to the level of an emergency.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Motiva Enterprises said "results indicated there was no environmental impact." The company added their findings were backed up by the DEQ and a third-party contractor and that "the health and safety of the community, and ensuring the environment is protected are of the utmost importance to us."