NEW ORLEANS, La. – As communities in South Louisiana brace for the flood waters from the Mississippi River, refineries and chemical facilities are doing the same. But while photos of residents putting up sandbags around their homes are everywhere in the media, few know exactly what facilities are doing to protect infrastructure and the surrounding communities.
Members of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade spent last week struggling to get answers from officials and refinery personnel about specific actions taken to prevent potential chemical accidents during flooding and ways they plan to monitor for contamination.
"It is extremely disconcerting that the state and the petroleum industry lack transparency and accountability around emergency preparedness in a region that is tested time and again by catastrophic events," said Anna Hrybyk, LABB's program manager.
To see the official responses (or lack thereof) and a list of important questions that have yet been answered, check out the LABB blog. It's being updated as new information comes in.
Refinery accidents often happen during bad weather like heavy rains and tropical events, but it's often the flood waters that cause the most damage, overflowing treatment tanks and sending oil and toxic chemicals into nearby canals and neighborhoods.
From 2005-2010 at Louisiana refineries, 2,262,734 gallons of pollution were released during heavy rains (not related to tropical events), according to LABB'sRefinery Accident Database
. Ninety-eight percent of this pollution total was released in one accident at CITGO in Lake Charles -- a 2.2 million-gallon oil spill June 18-19, 2006. The refinery experienced a heavy rainfall event, greater than 8 inches of rain in 36 hours. Rainfall runoff exceeded available capacity of the wastewater treatment system storm water tanks and the treatment system, causing slop oil and wastewater overflow into the dike area surrounding the tanks, allowing evaporation of benzene and other chemicals into the air.
Also, 502,900 pounds of emissions to the air were released from heavy rain/flooding-related accidents -- 75 percent of this was released during the CITGO accident mentioned above.
Besides CITGO, the flooding accident people most remember is the Murphy Oil spill after Hurricane Katrina, where a storage tank lifted off the ground in flood waters, spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil and contaminated more than 1,700 properties.
About the Louisiana Bucket Brigade:
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.