Labor Day refinery accident released more than spent catalyst, nonprofit group reports

Sep 20th, 2010 | By | Category: Top Story

Chalmette Refining

Chalmette Refining pictured here Sept. 15, nine days after a ton of spent catalyst was released into the surrounding community. Photo by Frank McCormack

About a week after the Labor Day power outage at Chalmette Refining that caused a ton of spent catalyst to spew into the air and blanket the surrounding area, a local advocacy group is drawing attention to several other chemicals that were released as well. 

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade cites a report from the refinery to the State Police Hazardous Materials Hotline that indicated the Sept. 6 power outage released – in addition to the catalyst – about 2,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 1,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide and “an unspecified amount” of hydrogen sulfide. Spent catalyst is a sandy, light-colored material that is a byproduct of the refining process. 

“The only substance people were told about is what was raining down on their property – the catalyst the refinery couldn’t hide,” said Louisiana Bucket Brigade founding director Anne Rolfes. “Chalmette Refining failed to be open and honest with its neighbors about a host of other chemicals that were released.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to low levels of the three additional chemicals can trigger short term respiratory irritation. 

In addition, the report from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade again highlighted the fact that the public was told the catalyst was safe to clean, even though the Material Safety Data Sheet on the substance advises workers to wear gloves and goggles when handling it and to clean or dispose clothes contaminated by it. 

Will Hinson, a spokesperson for the refinery, said that, despite the attention the three additional chemicals are receiving now, they were reported to all the necessary agencies at the time of their release. 

“I think it’s important to note we notified all the regulatory bodies immediately when the release occurred,” Hinson said. “We sent employees out into the community down wind from the plant and our monitoring equipment did not detect anything that would trigger a response from the Department of Environmental Quality.” 

Hinson stressed that Material Safety Data Sheets are developed for use on industrial sites where workers encounter the substances in much greater quantities. 

“This is no way is applied to the type and quantity levels our neighbors experienced,” he said. 

Hinson said the actual cause of the power outage that triggered the Labor Day chemical release is still under investigation. Once the cause is determined, that information should get to the general public by way of state regulatory agencies like the Department of Environmental Quality.

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