Troubled Orion Refinery violates state air standards: Citizen air sample exposes release of carcinogen

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(September 28, 2000 New Sarpy) The New Sarpy Concerned Citizens are today releasing results of an air sample that expose the refinery's release of high levels of toxic chemicals into the air. Orion's release was 3.5 times higher than the state standard for the chemical known as benzene. The violation has intensified the community's demand for relocation.

The air sample, taken by the community Bucket Brigade on the street that borders the refinery, was taken minutes after a meeting in which CEO Clark Johnson told the community that the refinery's emissions were nothing to worry about. "He said not to worry, but we came out of that meeting and I smelled an odor," said Dorothy Jenkins who took the sample. The results show that the air on that day was laced with dangerous amounts of benzene, a chemical proven to cause cancer in humans. 

The sample and the meeting occurred on August 30. During the meeting, residents complained about the odors and the noise that come from the Orion flare "The flare is so high and so loud it sounds like a train coming through your house," said Mrs. Jenkins. "There's an awful smell," said Shonda Lee of New Sarpy. "I've called anyone and everyone I can to try to do something about it." In the meeting Mr. Johnson told the community that the flare was a nuisance but not a health risk. He noted that his concern with the flare was the money it costs his corporation.

Residents of New Sarpy were shocked to learn that the results of the sample were similar to samples taken in South Africa, a country in which refineries are notorious for their pollution. A comparison of the results show that the New Sarpy sample details a comparable number of chemicals and is similar in the elevated levels of sulfur compounds, particularly carbon disulfide. Many other states have health standards for carbon disulfide, but Louisiana does not.

The violation seems a continuation of the refinery's questionable operations, coming only four months after an explosion and a fire that shut down half of the facility. Orion was permanently shut down in the early 1980's for dozens of violations by the EPA and state Department of Environmental Quality. "I don't see that much has changed in their manner of operation," said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the group that assists citizens in taking the air samples. Orion re opened two and a half years ago.

In the month since the meeting was held at Orion, an official of the company has contacted the Bucket Brigade requesting results of the air samples taken by the community over the past two years. That same official says that Orion does no air monitoring in the community and has not attended meetings of the local industry group that oversees air monitoring.

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