(Norco, La. September 26, 2000) An air sample taken by the Bucket Brigade in the Diamond Neighborhood in Norco showed extremely high levels of a toxic chemical previously identified during a controversial incident on December 8, 1998. The Diamond Neighborhood, which seeks relocation of four streets in the shadow of the troubled Shell Chemical Plant, reacted with shock when told of the results. The sample showed 4,000 parts per billion of MEK, over 1.5 times higher than the state's health standard. MEK is a recognized or suspected toxin affecting the liver, skin, and kidney, as well as the reproductive, cardiovascular, and immune systems. It is also a suspected neurotoxin.
The evidence gave urgency to efforts to expand Shell's offer of relocating two streets of the four in the Diamond Neighborhood. "I'm too close," said Gaynel Johnson, who lives on Diamond St. "It smells like rotten eggs, all different kinds of chemicals and chlorine." The sample was taken on August 28, 2000 on Cathy Street, one block away from the two streets - Diamond and East - which Shell refuses to relocate. The residents of the Diamond neighborhood note the likelihood that chemicals from the plant affect all of the streets "We're all too close, all four streets," said Mrs. Johnson.
Shell has recently offered to "accelerate" their buyout of half the area after a high profile campaign against the environmental practices of the facility. The Shell operations in Norco face heavy scrutiny and a criminal investigation due to the efforts of local and national groups to shine a spotlight on the company.
Shell has tried to divide the community by discussing relocation of two streets instead of all four. "Divide and conquer," said Margie Richard, President of Concerned Citizens of Norco. "That's their strategy." Mrs. Richard is currently in Washington, D.C. for a meeting of the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT). "I will bring the results of this sample to the meeting, you can be sure," said Mrs. Richard. Shell was embarrassed at a NACEPT meeting held last November in New Orleans when Concerned Citizens of Norco and other organizations released a report - Shell Norco, Toxic Neighbor - exposing Shell's routine pollution of the Diamond community.
"The situation is critical," said Mrs. Richard from Washington. "The facts have been presented, the truth is there. The laws are being violated." The community calls on the EPA to act with all of its resources to monitor for all these chemicals 24 hours of the day, seven days a week. "No more excuses," said Gaynel Johnson. ""It's a daily thing that's going on. We need action. " Absent any data to the contrary, the Bucket Brigade samples are the only credible measurements that the community has. "Two years ago, Shell was caught releasing dangerous amounts of MEK," said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "Now they get caught again. They have had two years to clean up their act and they haven't done so. All four streets must be relocated away from this monster."
The EPA moved into Calcasieu Parish after the Bucket Brigade there found similar results. The EPA not only validated the extremely high level of chemicals, but also found it was often worse than the community samples had revealed. The Concerned Citizens of Norco contend that their community and neighboring New Sarpy deserve the same level of attention.