Notes from LABB: Chalmette Refining accident brings up questions about worker safety and deferred maintenance

| Press Releases

CHALMETTE, La. – A week after Gregory Starkey died at Chalmette Refining while trying to fix a hydrogen sulfide leak, many questions linger. As the Louisiana Bucket Brigade continues to monitor the investigation, here is information we think the media should keep in mind for future coverage:

What we know (according to media reports):

    * The leak began at approximately 10:40 p.m. Oct. 4 and was fixed Oct. 8.
    * The leak occurred on a section of pipe that had prior problems; the hydrogen sulfide came from a clamp on a leak.
    * The coroner in St. Bernard Parish claimed Oct. 8 that Starkey’s death was likely the result of an enlarged heart, though results from toxicology results aren’t expected until later this month.
    * Several entities are investigating the accident, including ExxonMobil, Starkey’s employer TEAM Industrial Service, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and more.

What we don’t know:

    * Why St. Bernard Fire Chief Thomas Stone has issued a "Do Not Distribute" order regarding reports and information about the accident.
    * Why local officials never alerted residents to the hydrogen sulfide leak even though Chalmette Refining reported it to the proper authorities.
    * If a citizen report to the Chemical Accidents Crisis Map (a component of the Oil Spill Crisis Map) stating that Starkey’s respirator was faulty has been confirmed. Was he wearing the proper protective gear to deal with this leak? DEQ claims to have inspected his safety equipment and found nothing wrong with it. Where is their report?
    * The actual results of air monitoring samples taken since the accident. DEQ and the refinery say results show no readings of hydrogen sulfide outside the facility, but what were the detection limits of the equipment used? When were they taken? Where? What were the wind conditions at the time of sampling?

What we’re concerned about:

    * The accident happened while workers tried to clamp a sleeve on the pipe over an area already clamped from a leak that happened several weeks ago, according to media reports. Essentially, the refinery tried to put a bandage over another bandage rather than install a new pipe. When did the original leak happen? What do maintenance records show about this faulty section of pipe?
    * ExxonMobil said it will stop operating several systems in Chalmette and cut 70 jobs. The facility is falling into disrepair. Are there other pieces of machinery that could cause similar problems, and how will the layoffs impact maintenance?
    * Similarly, ExxonMobil is turning to contract work for its facility, which means the company could place the blame for this accident on TEAM Industrial Service rather than look at the root cause – its own poor maintenance.
    * This accident is another in a long list for the refinery, which averaged 83 per year from 2005-2009 and spilled 19 tons of spent catalyst on area neighborhoods Labor Day morning. Check out LABB's Refinery Accident Database for more detailed information about the refinery's many accidents.

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.

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