Assurances of safety after Chevron leak called into question: Ongoing conflict of interest seen in official reports

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(New Orleans) After a leak at a Chevron plant that sent 40 people in Chalmette to the hospital, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is calling on St. Bernard Parish and plant officials to reform the way they investigate and report matters of chemical exposure. “It is irresponsible and potentially deadly to allow people who are not experts in toxic chemical exposure to assess and report on these situations,” said Anne Rolfes, Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

The chemical that was leaked at approximately 6 PM on Wednesday afternoon was hydrogen sulfide, a known neurological toxin. According to Dr. Peter Orris of the University of Illinois, a renowned expert in the effects of toxic chemicals on the body, “hydrogen sulfide is an asphyxiate, and the symptoms in Chalmette of vomiting and nausea are consistent with exposure.” Dr. Orris did not examine any patients but was informed of the release.

“Hydrogen sulfide paralyzes the olfactory nerves,” said Dr. Orris. “After an initial exposure you won’t smell it anymore. The smell can go away and you think you are safe, but then you are asphyxiated.”

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has long critiqued both industry and government officials around Louisiana for providing what it calls premature assurances of safety after chemical leaks. “After every chemical release there is one thing you can be sure of: officials will say that they controlled it quickly and that no one was really hurt,” said Ms. Rolfes. “It’s time to address the problems and stop covering up for industry accidents.” 

Parish officials are charged with protecting the population after an accident. However, the officials’ close relationship with industry officials is believed oftentimes to be too close, and the parish officials don’t scrutinize or demand proof of industry claims of safety. In addition, officials want to relieve the residents’ concerns and may provide assurances without proof. “Last night the police said the release was quickly contained. We want to see the air samples that prove that,” said Ms. Rolfes.

In August the Louisiana Bucket Brigade produced a report entitled “No Harmful Chemicals Were Released,” highlighting the industry practice of consistently insisting that their accidents are safe. For copies of the report call (504) 269 – 5070.

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