Groups Call on Governor to Mandate Air Monitoring at ExxonMobil’s Troubled Chalmette Refinery

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(Chalmette) In a move designed to provide relief for the long suffering neighbors of Chalmette’s troubled Exxon Mobil Refinery, residents and their allies are today asking Governor Blanco to direct the refinery to install real time, 24 hour monitors next to their facility and in the Chalmette Vista neighborhood nearby. “I have been worried about all of us in St. Bernard, but especially the children for so many years,” said Ken Ford, President of the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality. “We need to monitor so we can protect them.” Installment of the monitors is one of the goals of the St. Bernard community group.

The request follows the Governor’s similar directive to facilities in Baton Rouge, including the Exxon Mobil refinery there. In October the Governor announced that the Department of Environmental Quality was requiring several Baton Rouge industries to monitor based on the state’s detection of harmful chemicals in the air. The groups are today asking that the Governor use the same approach to the toxic pollution in Chalmette.

The month of October was particularly excruciating for neighbors in Chalmette who took six air samples that documented toxic exposure in the neighborhood. Exxon Mobil spokespeople admitted to a problem with the coker unit throughout the month. The samples detected chemicals at levels that violate federal standards and health screening levels as well as standards set by various states around the country.

“People in Chalmette have documented dangerous toxic exposure in the very same way that the state did in Baton Rouge,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “It makes sense that the Governor step in and defend their lives just as she did in Baton Rouge.” The groups are sending a letter to the Governor today with their request.

In the Times Picayune of November 10th, Bruce Hammatt, an administrator with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, acknowledged violations at the Exxon Mobil refinery. He was quoted in the paper as saying that “there have been a significant number of violations that have occurred at the refinery.”

Residents of Chalmette are routinely exposed to pollution from Exxon Mobil, but the problems in October were even worse than usual. Among the experiences in October:

• Two families reported being bombarded by terrible odors after attending Sunday night mass on October 10th.

• One man reported getting out of his car and gagging at the odor on October 26th.

• One woman developed a sore throat from exposure on that same day; the irritation lasted for an hour after the odor was gone.

Of additional concern to the groups are the statements being made to the community by the refinery. Chalmette Refinery spokeswoman Chris Hill stated to community members on the telephone on more than one occasion that “our chemicals don’t cause cancer.” This contradicts Exxon Mobil’s Toxic Release Inventory reports to the federal government in which the refinery details release of benzene, a known carcinogen. Refinery managers in Port Arthur, Texas have been sued for making such contradictory statements.

Over the past two years residents of Chalmette have taken 20 air samples with their EPA approved bucket air sampling devices, documenting over 100 violations of state and federal air standards and health screening levels. “Exxon isn’t doing anything about the problem, the Department of Environmental Quality hasn’t doing anything about it for 20 years,” said Denny Larson of the Refinery Reform Campaign. “The Governor has the power to resolve this matter once and for all.”

Monitoring with the high technology CEREX air monitors have verified the problem and documented ongoing exposure to sulfur dioxide, a chemical known to trigger asthma attacks. Of particular concern to the community is the elementary school near the refinery.

The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality have taken a number of actions to reduce the toxic pollution from Exxon Mobil, including documentation of the pollution with air samples, alerting the Parish Council to the problem, filing a Clean Air Act law suit with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, and ongoing organizing in the community, including passing out thousands of fliers at intersections in Chalmette.

Where: Near Rowley Elementary School; gain access at 12 Carroll Drive, Chalmette, off of St. Bernard Highway.

When: 11 AM, Tuesday, November 16, 2004

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