Impacted communities demand industry get serious about emergency preparedness

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Press Conference: The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is hosting a press conference to discuss storm-related accidents June 1, 2011 (Wednesday) at 11 a.m. at Community Empowerment for Change, 3776 Baton Rouge Avenue, Baton Rouge, LA, 70805. Call Anna Hrybyk, (504) 312-1737, for more information.

BATON ROUGE – With recent Mississippi River flooding, the BP Oil Spill and Hurricane Katrina, emergency preparedness should be a huge priority among industry, state and federal officials. Refinery reports show, however, that bad weather continues to be the single largest cause of pollution via refinery accidents in the state from 2005-2010.

“It is unacceptable to assume that communities already weakened by disasters in this state will continue to be poisoned due to lackadaisical accident prevention and response on the part of the petrochemical industry and emergency response officials,” said Anna Hrybyk, Louisiana Bucket Brigade Program Manager.

At issue are the high amounts of refinery pollution during hurricanes and storms. Accident reports from 2005-2010 – analyzed by LABB – show storms are the cause of 26% of air pollution and 65% of water pollution from refinery accidents statewide. In five years, these accidents released more than 5.8 million pounds of air pollution and more than 15 million gallons of ground/water pollution.

The Istrouma community in Baton Rouge knows firsthand how a lack of emergency preparedness at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery resulted in chemical exposure for thousands of residents and workers during the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.

“We need our people to be aware of what kind of chemicals can come on them during hurricanes,” said Seabell Thomas, leader of the Istrouma group Community Empowerment for Change.  

The pollution resulting from these accidents can be avoided with better preparation. Hurricanes, tropical storms and heavy rains are a known risk in this part of the country and their impacts should be properly planned for. LABB and its community partners are requesting that local emergency planning commissions audit the emergency plans of state refineries to ensure the following measures are in place and enforced:

   * Planned shutdowns of the entire refinery should be in effect within no less than 12 hours of a hurricane landfall. A well-sequenced shutdown of the entire facility should result in little to no emissions.  

   * Increase capability to handle heavy rainfall. Refineries in Louisiana have inadequate stormwater and wastewater treatment capacity leading them to dump oily water into neighborhood canals, rivers and ship channels.

   * Power shortages are inevitable during storms. Refineries should have enough backup power supplies to allow them to shut down safely.

“These common sense recommendations should be adopted by the refining industry along the entire Gulf Coast as we enter into the 2011 hurricane season. The devastation left by hurricanes is difficult enough and is only compounded when industry ignores these types of common sense recommendations, putting their own self interest above the welfare of the communities where they do business,” said Jim Lefton, Assistant to the Director, District 13, United Steelworkers International Union.

Some of the worst examples of inadequate emergency plans include Murphy Oil’s million-gallon oil spill during Hurricane Katrina and Chalmette Refining’s 11 million-gallon release of polluted water during Hurricane Gustav.

Read the full analysis of refinery accidents during bad weather here.

Also, look at refinery accident reports via LABB's Refinery Accident Database.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice organization supporting neighborhoods’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable communities free from industrial pollution.

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