Officials say foul smells from Dow could linger

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 10, 2009


HAHNVILLE – On Thursday, officials with St. Charles Parish, the Department of Environmental Quality and Dow Chemical’s Hahnville operations said foul smells from a chemical release at the plant on Tuesday could continue to linger in the area for the next few days but said the odor does not pose an immediate health risk.

A reaction inside a tank at Dow’s facility that contained a chemical known as ethyl acrylate produced the unpleasant odor that wafted across parts of St. Charles, Jefferson and Orleans Parishes Tuesday morning. Cleanup crews spent Tuesday and most of Wednesday neutralizing the material, which is used in the manufacture of a wide array of cleaning products, so that it could be contained on rail cars and disposed of.  He said disposal would be done at Dow’s Hahnville site.

Although most of the chemical had been contained, Dow spokesman Tommy Faucheux said “minute pockets” of the ethyl acrylate still remained inside the tank, causing the smell to hang around some neighborhoods in St. Charles.

“One small drop of the chemical can go a long way,” Faucheux said. “We are continuing to neutralize the last of it and knock out the odor.”

Faucheux said Dow is continuing to investigate the cause of the leak, but it is believed that a malfunctioning vent on the 640,000-gallon tank is what initially led to the release. He also said the roof of the tank caved in and is continuing to collapse on itself. It is not clear what caused the tank to cave in.

Rodney Mallet, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said only “single digits” parts per million of the chemical escaped during the initial leak Tuesday. He did not say exactly how much of the chemical was let loose but said it was never anywhere near the 25 ppm toxicity level that would have led the state to “take action.”

Mallet said the DEQ would continue to take air samples around the Dow facility until the smell dissipates. He said all previous samples had come back below the “action level.”

St. Charles Emergency Preparedness Director Scott Welchel said reports of the odor, which originally reached into parts of the metro New Orleans area, were continuing to come from Hahnville, the Mimosa Park area of Luling, Boutte, St. Rose and New Sarpy Thursday. He said the parish took various steps to notify residents about the smell and activated protective measures as soon as the threat was eminent. He said the parish ordered evacuations of homes near the plant as early as 7:10 a.m. Tuesday. He said all residents who were evacuated had returned to their homes Thursday. 

Since the odor continues to be strong, parish officials said some residents could still experience mild transient health affects such as irritated eyes, nose and throat, headaches and nausea. St. Charles officials said two people sought medical attention Thursday and a total of 32 residents were treated and released from St. Charles Parish Hospital as a result of various irritations caused by the smell.

The severity of the ordeal has also led some area residents to seek legal action against Dow as early as Tuesday afternoon. LaPlace attorney Daniel E. Becnel filed a suit in St. Charles District Court on behalf of two St. Charles residents who claimed loss of wages and medical expenses. District Court Judge Lauren Lemmon will preside over the case.