Copyright 1999 The Times-Picayune Publishing Co.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
June 21, 1999 Monday, ORLEANS
SECTION: METRO; Pg. B1
LENGTH: 681 words
HEADLINE: PLANTS' NEIGHBORS BAG THEIR AIR;
TESTS WILL FLAG TOXIC CHEMICALS
BYLINE: By Mary Swerczek River Parishes bureau
Using plastic five-gallon buckets loaded with special air-collection bags, Norco
residents, concerned about possible toxic emissions from industries in their
neighborhood, took air samples for the first time Saturday.
The St. Charles Parish air will be sent to a California lab where it will be tested for about
100 chemicals and results will be returned in 10 days.
"We did this because we're afraid of what comes out of the plants," Norco resident Mary
But a Shell Chemical Co. representative said residents probably won't find anything
wrong with the air in Norco.
"We've been in the community for over 70 years and have been recognized by the state
for our commitment to health and the environment," said Lily Galland, community
relations representative from Shell Chemical Co., adding that the Norco facility has
reduced emissions by 99 percent from 1987 to 1997.
Some environmental experts regard the community-based air sampling as a valuable way
for residents living by industrial plants to get a sense of control over their neighborhood.
"This is a really great tool for a community to use to be in control, before they smell
things and don't know what's happening," said Maura Wood, a Sierra Club conservation
organizer, who was at the event Saturday. The Sierra Club provided Norco citizens with a
community action grant to pay for the buckets.
The residents first took an air sample on Washington Street, standing between the
baseball field and Shell Chemical Plant's fence. Resident Percy Hollins set up the bucket,
attached the stainless steel valve and after three minutes of a low whirring noise, he
opened the bucket to reveal a bag full of Norco air. About 10 Norco and New Sarpy residents watched, some holding their noses against a
slight odor from the Shell Chemical Plant, which they presumed to be natural gas.
"I'm sensitive to odors," Norco resident Margie Richard said, holding a tissue in front of
her mouth and nose. "My throat's already sore."
The group then caravaned to the Bonnet Carre Spillway and took another sample about
300 yards from Shell Chemical.
The buckets are more low-tech than the expensive stainless steel canisters that most
government agencies use to get samples, but are often as reliable, said Denny Larson, the
Northern California director of Communities for a Better Environment, who supervised
the tests Saturday.
"We did side-by-side tests with the canisters and in most cases the results were exactly
the same," he said, adding that sometimes the buckets did a better job of detecting low
levels of chemicals.
And even though residents who use the buckets to test the air in their community are
usually amateurs not armed with college degrees in environmental science or
environmental engineering, the tests are scientifically accurate, Larson said.
"There's really no difference between them doing it and a government agency," Larson
said, as long as residents have been properly trained to use the devices.
He said residents can use the test results to make industry accountable by reporting their
findings to government agencies.
The sampling will continue in the parish indefinitely. Five Norco and five New Sarpy
residents will operate as "sniffers." When they smell chemicals in the air, they will alert
the person with the bucket in their community and decide whether or not to test the air.
Northern California residents, frustrated by a lack of communication with chemical
industries in their neighborhoods, started the Bucket Brigade project four years ago.
Richard first summoned national members of the Bucket Brigade project in California to
Norco in December to take air samples after neighbors smelled a foul odor. Larson said
teaching residents how to take their own samples reduces the burden on the national
The St. Charles Bucket Brigade is the second in Louisiana, Larson said. Lake Charles
residents started taking samples in September and have taken about 20 since then, he
said. He is in Louisiana this week training residents in Norco, Convent and Geismar. GRAPHIC: Gaynel Johnson covers her nose and mouth against a chemical odor as she
and other Norco and New Sarpy residents take air-quality samples near the Shell
Chemical plant in Norco. Johnson says fumes from the plant make her sick. The samples
will go to a California lab to be tested for harmful chemicals. STAFF PHOTO BY MATT
ROSE Denny Larson, right, of the Communities for a Better Environment, supervises the
first-time use of an air monitor as Norco resident Percy Hollins removes the air sample
bag taken near the Shell Chemical plant in Norco. About 10 Norco and some New Sarpy
residents were walked through the process of taking air quality samples and sending them
to be evaluated. Five members of the Norco and New Sarpy communities will be
appointed "sniffers" to smell the air in their communities periodically and alert the
community that another sample needs to be taken. STAFF PHOTO BY MATT ROSE
LOAD-DATE: June 21, 1999