CHALMETTE, La. -- A foul odor blanketed the metro New Orleans area in early April, and we now know it came from a spill at the Chalmette Refinery.
Wednesday, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials testified before the Jefferson Council that the April 3, 2013 release was one of two releases, or spills, at the refinery that day.
It had Jefferson Parish leaders questioning how quickly companies are reporting them.
Chalmette residents may have been the closest to it, but people all the way to Luling reported a burnt rubber, natural gas smell early in the morning on April 3.
“Exxon-Mobile had reported a spill or a release earlier that morning. They said it was discovered at 7:08 in the morning and secured at 7:45. It was described as wastewater,” said Mike Algero with the DEQ.
According to the "seven day report" that the refinery turned over to DEQ, that wastewater contained some of a chemical that's used to add an odor to natural gas called a mercaptan.
“On that same Wednesday, there was a power loss at the Exxon facility. They had a release of sulfur dioxide,” Algero said.
According to Sam Phillips, assistant secretary of DEQ in charge of permitting, recent changes in federal standards for the sulfur dioxide could change the permit for the Chalmette refinery, and that could limit the number of odor problems. However, those changes aren’t expected to take effect, Phillips said, for “another couple of years.”
Jefferson Parish Council members asked the state's environmental regulators Wednesday whether there have been increasing problems with chemical odors in recent months.
“There have been issues in the last year where it's been widespread. It's not just a call from someone who lives near a tank terminal who may smell something being unloaded. We're getting calls from all points of the parish with the same common complaint,” said Council Member At-Large Chris Roberts.
Assistant Secretary for Environmental Compliance Cheryl Nolan said they've investigated 37 odor complaints in Jefferson Parish since late 2011.
But environmental activist group the Bucket Brigade questions whether DEQ is getting notified about all of them.
“People report to the Department of Environmental Quality and they don't get a response. So, they get discouraged,” said Anne Rolfes, founder and director of the Bucket Brigade.
Council members also questioned how quickly the refinery reported the April spill and whether that allowed a fast enough response from DEQ. DEQ officials said that's part of their ongoing investigation.