Guest editorial: Reports indicate odor continues in St. Rose

Published 11:45 pm Friday, July 4, 2014

On Monday, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade received nine reports to the iWitness Pollution Map from St. Rose residents, all indicating that the strong chemical odor – and related health impacts – had returned. Debra Lee Gilliam left the following report on the map:

“The pollution is back in the air. It’s smelling horrible. I just spent four days in the hospital last week; respiratory problems.”

Last month the Louisiana Bucket Brigade deployed its Emergency Response Team to St. Rose after receiving copious calls from the community regarding a potent chemical odor that was making residents sick. Over 80% of residents interviewed by the Bucket Brigade on Friday, June 13th reported odor-induced health impacts, from vomiting to diarrhea.

On June 19, in response to these odor complaints, Shell and IMTT — the neighboring industrial facilities — released a joint statement asserting that all ambient air tests “met EPA air quality standards.”

In addition, the spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality, Greg Langley, stated that “we have found no levels [of air pollution] that are harmful to human health.”

As of June 20, the DEQ believes they have pinpointed the source of the problem: a certain type of crude oil used in asphalt production leading to the release of high amounts of sulfurous compounds. According to the DEQ, this asphalt was loaded onto a barge for disposal, and the facility managers have shut down the part of the plant responsible for the odor.

New community reports and acute health effects are in stark contrast to the statements made by Shell, IMTT, and DEQ. The lack of information makes it difficult to ascribe blame to industry or state agencies, but one thing is perfectly clear: a process is not in place to notify residents about accidents and adequately protect the health and safety of St. Rose and surrounding communities.

As reports continue to come in, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is working with residents to document health impacts and identify a path forward that holds industry accountable and that protects the health and well-being of the community.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade uses grassroots action to create an informed, healthy society with a culture that holds the petrochemical industry and government accountable for the true costs of pollution.