ExxonMobil forced by state to conduct air monitoring in Chalmette

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(Baton Rouge) ExxonMobil’s Chalmette Refinery is now legally obligated to pay for an air monitoring network in St. Bernard Parish, according to an Administrative Order that the refinery signed with the state Department of Environmental Quality on May 24th. “This is victory and progress,” said Ken Ford, President of the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality. “More needs to be done, but it’s a step forward.”

The Administrative Order identifies six air monitors that will be part of the network, including new sites at Chalmette High School and on the West Bank. In the order, Exxon has agreed to pay for the stations. “This deal rightly has Exxon footing the bill,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “It is up to the polluters – not the taxpayers – to monitor our air quality.”   

According to the complaint, “The Department has received numerous complaints regarding air quality in the area of Chalmette, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.”

At a meeting with the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality on May 10th, the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade convinced the state that the refinery’s operations warranted a dedicated air monitoring agreement. This meeting followed a request to the governor earlier in the year for more monitoring in the parish. “This shows that citizens can have an effect on a $25 billion company,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “DEQ still doesn’t understand the best, high tech monitoring equipment, but it’s a step and a win for us.”

ExxonMobil stated as recently as April 22nd   to the Times Picayune that they had no plans to monitor. “The Chalmette Air Monitoring Project demonstrated a clear and present need for more air monitoring program,” said Brian Swett who has been operating the equipment for the two groups.  “We are glad that the state and Exxon now agree that current air monitoring is inadequate to determine if the public’s health is being protected.” The Chalmette Air Monitoring Project, organized by the community groups and kicked off on April 21st, has found consistent and repeated violations of state and federal health levels.

According to their own reports, Exxon is the largest source of carcinogens in the parish. The company has been under fire for years now for its lack of air monitoring, and was recently featured in a New York Times article for its use of the deadly acid hydrofluoric acid. The national attention continued to escalate at Wednesday’s Exxon shareholder meeting, where four questions about Chalmette Refining were raised in front of the board of directors and shareholders.

The community groups emphasize that the Administrative Order, while an improvement, is not the state of the art system that the groups themselves have been using. “We will continue to advocate for better air monitoring,” said Anne Rolfes, “but for now we are celebrating David’s victory over Goliath.”

Media Availability today from 10 AM – noon  at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade office at 2831 Marais St.

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