Another Calumet Refinery chemical release: Hydrogen sulfide detected in the neighborhood

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Velma White, President, Residents for Air Neutralization, (318) 218-3328
Anne Rolfes, Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, (504) 452-4909

Press Conference:
Where: 2841 Essex Street
When: 10 a.m., December 20, 2011 

SHREVEPORT, La. – Just weeks after a devastating inspection in which Calumet Manager Tom Germany admitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the Calumet Refinery was out of compliance, the beleaguered Calumet Refinery continues to be unable to control its operations. “This air sample is showing we’re being exposed – something we’ve been saying all along,” said Velma White, President of Residents for Air Neutralization (RAN).

On November 22 – just two days before Thanksgiving – residents of the Ingleside neighborhood smelled an odor that was caused by an emission due to flaring. A high flare releasing black smoke that morning prompted Velma White to take a sample. As she was driving closer to the refinery, she saw that the black smoke soon turned to rolls of white smoke in the air. She called the local Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) office to tell them. Ada Ledeaux, a field representative, told her that Calumet was cleaning their flaring unit with propane and oxygen to prepare it for shutdown. The odors caused symptoms of congestion that lasted two days after the sample was taken.

The sample results contained 13 different chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl sulfide, benzene, hexane, xylenes, butyl acetate, chlorbenzene, nonane and octane. “It’s not right for residents to be exposed to these chemicals from Calumet,” said Anne Rolfes, Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

The highest reading in the sample was a hydrogen sulfide reading of 17 parts per billion that exceeded the following standards. Hydrogen sulfide is a neurotoxin and a respiratory irritant that endangers residents and workers alike.



Standard in parts per billion
(Sample result: 17)

Massachusetts .65
World Health Organization  1
New York Rules and Regulations 10
Louisiana No standard


The EPA Inspection released in November found that the refinery had serious and ongoing problems with releases of hydrogen sulfide. The EPA Inspection noted that:

“There have been incidents due to exposures to H2S [hydrogen sulfide] and SO2 [sulfur dioxide].” (p. 14)

“Incident 1249 describes Manual Tyler and Gary Bragg cleaning a strainer when both started getting light headed and dizzy, so they decided to go and get a full gas monitor. As soon as they came over the dyke wall, the monitor picked up high readings above LEL of H2S. Again, this practice means personnel have to be present for a release to be detected.” (p. 20)

The results of the air sample show that this problem not only persists, but is also impacting the community.

Among the health concerns from the hydrogen sulfide and other chemicals are:

Synergistic effect: There is little scientific information about the impact of a mixture of chemicals – known as the synergistic effect – on human health. Most studies involve only a single chemical. Yet when a doctor prescribes medicine, s/he will often instruct patients not to take it in combination with other medicine. This same hazardous combination can happen when people breathe a mixture of chemicals.

Chemical blast: DEQ and Calumet argue that high readings are not significant because these readings average out over the course of a day or year. Neither DEQ nor the refinery provide any evidence to support this claim. The impact of concentrated exposure to chemicals remains a community concern.  

Long-term exposure: There is little scientific information about the impact of long-term exposure to chemicals. Some of the residents of Ingleside have grown up around the refinery, spending their developmental years exposed to toxics, including developmental toxins. Other residents have lived in the community for 30 years and are understandably concerned about exposure that they have experience most of their lives.

Residents for Air Neutralization is a group of concerned citizens in Shreveport working to reduce pollution and improve the quality of life in their neighborhood.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice organization supporting neighborhoods’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable communities free from industrial pollution.

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