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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

CHALMETTE, La. -- Health complaints and above-normal sulfur dioxide levels have sparked an investigation in the Chalmette area by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

Reports of higher than normal So2 levels are concerning to parish officials, neighbors and a local watch dog group.

'We found out it's crude oil. That's how I found out,' said Chrystina Kidd about her neighbors informing her of a crude oil unit leaking at the nearby Chalmette Refinery on Sunday.

Patrick Trahan, a spokesperson for the Chalmette refinery confirms that more than 30 barrels of crude oil leaked, which dense fog carried into nearby neighborhoods like Kidd's.

The mother of two said this is just one of a string of concerns she has living close to three big plants, including Wednesday's reports of elevated sulfur dioxide levels in the air.

'It does make me worried, I have a sick son and he's been going through chemo for about three years. I can't even let me child outside to play without a mask on,' said Kidd.

On Wednesday, Louisiana DEQ officials announced that sulfur dioxide levels in the Chalmette area are above the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended standards and is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

'We went down there with our monitoring equipment. We picked up some elevated levels which are above the one-hour standard,' said Rodney Mallett with the Louisiana DEQ.

DEQ says it used a mobile air monitoring lab on Jan. 11 and Jan. 12 to test for pollutants. Right now, DEQ confirms that the Chalmette Refinery, Valero Refinery and Rain CII facility have permits to release sulfur dioxide.

'We have issued orders to the three permitted So2 emitters in the area. No one has violated a permit that we know of. It might not be one source contributing to this monitor going over. It might be a combination of all three sources or these three sources plus additional resources,' said Mallett.

Documents obtained by Eyewitness News show that since Dec. 21, the National Response Center has received at least three reports of strong odors and pollutants reportedly connected to three different industrial facilities in Chalmette.

'This chemical has been a problem in Chalmette for a long time, long before Katrina. As usual the Department of Environmental Quality is really late in addressing it, but at least they're finally doing something,' said Ann Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

The watchdog group says DEQ needs to do more to monitor emissions from refineries and other facilities in St. Bernard Parish.

'The problem is that people's health is impacted. It impacts their livelihood, their ability to care for their children. Our ability as a state to make progress,' said Rolfes.

Jerry Graves, St. Bernard Parish's chief administrative officer, said the parish met on Wednesday with EPA and DEQ officials who presented measures the agencies are taking to monitor the sulfur dioxide situation.

Graves said the parish wants to know the cause of elevated levels in the area and what is being done to prevent them from happening again.

Spokespeople for both the Chalmette and Valero refineries tell WWL-TV that investments have been made at the facilities to reduce the levels of sulfur dioxide being emitted.

Eyewitness News tried to contact the Rain CII, but did not hear back from the facility in time for Wednesday night's evening newscast.

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