DEQ responds to strong chemical odor in Chalmette

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 6:24 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 11 at 6:41 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

CHALMETTE, La. -- Louisiana environmental monitors are in place in St. Bernard Parish, trying to identify the source of a strong chemical odor. Thursday night, there was a flood of complaints about the smell in the air.

Neighbors say it was similar to the odor that shut down the Chalmette Ferry for a time in late December.

"Rotten, funky eggs," said Chalmette neighbor Julie Huy. "It's nasty smelling. Like a nasty oil smell. I don't know what they burning over there."

Huy and her husband Anthony live just across St. Bernard highway from the plants they blame for the strong odor.

"Some days you come out here and it really stinks," said Anthony Huy. "You hate to breath the air."

Neighbors in Chalmette and across the Mississippi River in Terrytown complained about burning eyes and breathing problems.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is now responding to those concerns.

"Right now, we're trying to determine the source of the odors through multiple levels of monitoring," said LDEQ Inspection administrator.

Friday, the department sent its mobile air monitoring lab and a team of hand held monitors to Chalmette. They focused on an area near the Rain CII plant and Chalmette Refinery, looking for traces of sulfuric acid, sulfur dioxide, and methane.

"Depending on which one is picked up we can compare with the permitted values at a facility or the processes at a particular facility," said Killeen.

While DEQ is concerned about the strong odor, scientists don't believe it presents an immediate health hazard.

"What we're seeing right now is an odor detection, an odor threshold," said Killeen. "An odor threshold tends to be very, very much lower than a health or regulatory threshold for these parameters."

"A lot of people are getting respiratory problems, breathing problems from that smell," said Julie Huy.

Killeen says the heavy, humid and dense air in recent days may be to blame for the strong odor.

"A lot of time it's just a combination of weather events. It may take a small amount of a material and make it seem like a lot more if you're in the path of it."

DEQ has instructed the Rain CII plant, the Chalmette Refinery and the Valero Refinery to submit plans to increase air monitoring in the areas where neighbors are complaining about the strong odor. 

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