Worker fatality at troubled Chalmette Refining: Details of serious hydrogen sulfide release unclear

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Chalmette, La.-- The troubled Chalmette Refinery, which averaged 83 accidents per year from 2005 – 2009, is in the throes of yet another emergency. This time the problem is a leak of compressed flammable gas that,  according to a refinery spokesman, contains hydrogen sulfide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration terms this chemical “extremely hazardous.” A report entered ontp the the Louisiana Bucket Brigade's Oil Spill Crisis Map said that the deceased worker had a crack in his respirator.  The report can be viewed here. There is no other confirmation of this report.

The accident stemmed from poor maintenance. According to news reports, a previous leak was sealed with a clamp. That clamp was the source of this leak. “This refinery is laying off workers just when it needs to be hiring more to maintain this facility,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “This is a notorious refinery, one of the worst in the state.”

There has been no information provided about the detection limits of Chalmette Refining’s sampling. While the spokesman said nothing was detected, refineries are known to use equipment that does not measure for lower, but still harmful levels of exposure. Chalmette Refining’s credibility was damaged in its most recent accident – 19 tons of catalyst over Labor Day – when the spokesman said that he didn’t know what was in the catalyst but it wasn’t harmful.  That statement along with the refinery’s failure to tell the public about the full extent of the release has further sullied the refinery’s reputation.

“At what point does Exxon use its billions of dollars in profit to protect public health and our lives?” said Ms. Rolfes. “This refinery is a disaster and they keep proving it. Enough is enough.”

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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