The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality (SBCEQ) was started by Ken Ford who has been monitoring activity at the refinery since 1982. He has filed complaints with LDEQ, overseen the permitting process, documented flares and accidents with his camera and taken air samples with his bucket. Mr. Ford and his neighbors present convincing inventories of failure of government oversight as well as health and psychological problems, some of which they believe are caused or exacerbated by the pollution.
The goals of the SBCEQ are to:
- Create, maintain and preserve a cleaner and healthier environment for all the inhabitants of this state.
- Develop a body of information regarding refinery emissions and impact on the neighborhood by taking air samples and conducting health surveys.
- Involve and educate more community members on chemicals released into the atmosphere which can cause health problems. Some chemicals released in St. Bernard Parish are Toluene, Benzene, Hydrogen Sulfide, Sulfur Dioxide and many others.
- Find out what is causing routine emissions, upsets and problems created by industry.
There are refineries in parts of the U.S. that use modern technology and have low emissions. It is known that a clean operation is best for our community and our economy.
In 2007 a major victory was won. The EPA filed a federal consent decree against ExxonMobil in Chalmette, meaning that the refinery has to clean up according to federally enforceable guidelines. This came about after five years of community air monitoring.
The importance of this data cannot be overstated. It is a long term picture of what is happening in the parish. This is one of the few fenceline communities (and perhaps the only one) nationwide that can provide some idea of their air quality over the last five years. This is instructive for other communities, the DEQ and the EPA.
Our program in St. Bernard continues to support the residents there while cataloguing the results of the past years of air monitoring. Students from the University of Virginia are helping to complete this report.
Chalmette Air Monitoring Project
The St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade are excited to announce that our joint effort, the Chalmette Air Monitoring Project (CHAMP) is underway again! You can go to come to this website at anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and receive live air monitoring updates to learn what is in the air that you and your family are breathing now.
For several weeks in spring 2005, we operated an air monitor and posted the results online. The monitoring project is conducted directly across the street from ExxonMobil’s Chalmette Refining on St. Bernard Highway, near what was Rowley Elementary and what is now the site of a massive FEMA trailer park. Air monitoring is essential because before we can do anything about a problem, we need to understand it. We are all familiar with the bad smells coming from direction of ExxonMobil; we cannot do anything about it, though, until we and ExxonMobil know and understand the problem.
The goal of the project is to have Exxon accept responsibility for monitoring its emissions by installing real time air monitors in the community. The company made $36.13 billion in profit in 2005 according to their annual report and can afford to do so. As individuals, we are responsible for trash we throw on the ground; the refinery is likewise responsible for chemicals it puts in the air.
It is important to understand that we do not want the refinery to close—we understand that it provides high-paying jobs for many St. Bernard citizens and is an important player in the parish’s economy; however, we also recognize that if we are to create a safer St. Bernard in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we need to know and understand the risks that we face. In Chalmette, an important part of this is knowing what chemicals we and our families are breathing. It is for this reason that we believe that it is essential now for ExxonMobil to commit to monitoring their releases in order to protect the St. Bernard community.
CHAMP’s air monitor detects the Foul Five, five chemicals emitted by ExxonMobil that are of particular concern: benzene, carbon disulfide, sulfur dioxide, toluene, and xylene. You can learn more about each of these here. These chemicals have serious health impacts and have been detected in air samples taken by ExxonMobil neighbors over the past three years.
CHAMP’s monitor conducts real time monitoring. That means that the website is updated every single minute with new monitoring information about what is in the air right now.
Furthermore, every time our monitor detects one of the Foul Five chemicals above the level of concern for that particular chemical, we will issue an alert on this website. The alert will provide you with information about exactly when, where and at what time high levels of the chemical were detected. If you like, you can have these alerts e-mailed to you as soon as they are released.
The technology exists to understand what we are breathing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our monitoring project is making that point. The EPA and other refineries throughout the country use our monitor, the UV Sentry.
Excerpts from Judge Vance’s Ruling
February 4, 2005
Judge Sarah Vance’s Ruling Against ExxonMobil
February 4, 2005
Clean Air Act lawsuit
February 14, 2004