Chalmette community bombarded by ExxonMobil chemical releases: Citizens alarmed at health implications; call for EPA intervention

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(Chalmette, La.) Concerned citizen groups today released the results of a report highlighting ExxonMobil’s own records that show an alarmingly high rate of “unplanned events,” or accidents, at the facility. “We are concerned for our health,” said Ken Ford, President of St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality. Included in the accidental emissions are chemicals that are known to adversely affect human health.

The research examines reports that the company is legally required to make to the state Department of Environmental Quality after unplanned chemical releases. During the three months in question (May through July 2003), ExxonMobil reported:

•    32 accidents, for an average of one every three days;
•    a total of 309,730 pounds released into the air;
•    release of a known carcinogen, developmental toxins and respiratory irritants;
•    release of 235,104 pounds of sulfur dioxide, a respiratory irritant, on July 11th

Many neighbors report that they suffered from odors during the summer and called ExxonMobil to complain. These releases were in addition to ExxonMobil’s legally permitted emissions and are of particular concern to Chalmette residents who live across the street from the refinery. St. Bernard Parish has the highest cancer fatality rate in the state.

“These numbers are off the charts,” said Denny Larson of the Refinery Reform Campaign, a national campaign to clean up America’s oil refineries. “This refinery has real problems, especially when compared to operations at refineries around the country.” The ExxonMobil facility in Baton Rouge, though itself much troubled, does not have the high accident rate of the facility in Chalmette.

“How many accidents will it take before this facility admits it has a problem?” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a group that helps communities monitor their air quality. “There is the potential for a terrible accident that threatens the workers as well as the community that lives so close to the refinery.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has reported the risks to human beings related to the flaring of sulfur dioxide, the chemical that ExxonMobil released in greatest quantity.  An alert produced by the agency on the dangers noted that even short-term exposure “may result in reduced lung function accompanied by such symptoms as wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath in asthmatic children and adults.” (EPA Enforcement Alert, October 2000) 

The increased emissions are of special concern since there are so many schools nearby, including an elementary school just blocks away from ExxonMobil’s fenceline. “I am worried about the children,” said Mr. Ford.

The groups are calling on the EPA to step in and take enforcement action. “We also want ExxonMobil to hire more people to fix the problems,” said Ms. Rolfes. “There is obviously plenty of work to be done.”

WHAT:     Mr. Ford and representatives of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade will present the report’s findings.

WHERE:     12 Carroll Drive off of St. Bernard Highway in Chalmette

WHEN:    10:30 AM, Tuesday, September 23, 2003

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