Ashley Hubbard is LABB’s newest Petroleum Accident Research Intern and is currently studying Public Health at Dillard University in New Orleans.
This past Thursday on July 3rd, while most communities were be getting ready for a holiday weekend filled with fun, laughter, and fireworks, the community of St. Rose was in the library discussing their next action to deal with the horrid smell the residents have been dealing with off and on for over a month. The issue began on June 7th, when residents say a horrible smell filled the community; the smell was so bad that many in the community couldn’t even go outside to perform their daily routine.
For over a week the community complained to the authorities, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, EOC, their council members, and even the Governor Jindal. According to Shell, the odor was caused by a crude oil being processed in their facility with a higher than usual sulfur content. Shell was not set up to handle that kind of crude oil and the equipment designed to control the odors did not work properly, which caused a higher than average release of sulfur compounds into the air. Though community members reported that they had a break from the smell for a few days, a similar smell was back on June 30 and again on July 7. LABB received 173 reports about the initial odor (between June 11-23), 25 reports of a similar odor between June 30-July 2 and 6 reports between July 7-8.
At the meeting, Keith Adams, one of the community members organizing the meeting, started the meeting with a prayer and began telling his experiences with the odor. For the next 30 minutes multiple residents spoke of their experiences with the odor. Many explained the health effects they’ve dealt with, from nausea, headaches, respiratory issues, vomiting and diarrhea. The most alarming health effect was the reports of residents of all ages developing a rash from whatever chemicals were in the air. The residents explained that the smell was most potent during the hours of 2 to 4 am in the morning. The smell was so bad that residents said the odor came in through their vents whenever they turned their A/C units on. One resident said that she could smell the scent through her drain.
During the meeting, the community came up with various actions to move forward and get something done. Suggestions included forcing the company to provide monitors to detect what’s in the air, moving the facility, enforcing a buffer zone, and having the company pay for any health bill due to the smell. LABB provided the results to the health surveys that we had conducted during the initial odor in June. LABB surveyed community members to find someone who would be willing to take responsibility for a bucket so the community could learn what’s in the air, which got a positive response from the community.
I personally feel that the community is heading in the right direction. Although the process will be a long one, it is worth fighting for. When I heard of the ongoing battle the residents were facing, I immediately became angry for the community of St. Rose. It bothers me to know that a community as a whole have to keeping asking the authorities for their assistance, when there should be proper protocol to make sure that 1) the residents’ health doesn’t get affected, 2) all residents are alerted when something does happen, 3) they are compensated for all of the stress they’ve endured. It bother me to know that peoples health and rights are the last thing on big companies’ minds when it comes to their business. I’m not saying big companies shouldn’t produce their products, I just think they should be accountable to any accidents that may occur, they should either have protocols that foresee potential accidents and plan to fix the problems, or regulate more efficiently. All in all, it looks like the residents of St. Rose are on the right track to protect themselves and maintain a healthy and livable environment
If you live in the St Rose area and smell chemical odor, please continue reporting to the iWitness Pollution Map to document your experiences with pollution. You can call or text your reports to 504-272-7645, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit them at iwitnesspollution.org.