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Shreveport Times: Shreveport group voices concerns about Calumet refinery

By Michael Doughty, Shreveport Times

An environmental organization of Ingleside and Werner Park community members is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to penalize Shreveport’s Calumet refinery over alleged environmental violations.

Residents for Air Neutralization, headed by Velma White of the 4000 block of Velva Avenue, accuse Calumet of violating EPA regulations and claim the refinery exposes nearby residents to harmful chemicals.Lois Watson, Anneesha Stephens, Shamekia Jackson, Ronesha Johns and Velma White pray with others from Residents for Air Neutralization today after speaking with media representatives about Calumet refinery. White is president of Residents for Air Neutralization.

“It has been proven that we are being exposed to dangerous chemicals,” White said. “The reason why I moved into this area, you couldn’t make me believe that the EPA wouldn’t look out for our better health, living near these types of emissions. They should have let us know something is going wrong in this area, move in at your own risk.”

White and her group hope the EPA will require Calumet to relocate those living in the neighborhood where the alleged exposure occurred.

The group allege’s the refinery has had 13 accidents since December. Residents have reported flaring and black smoke from the spires at the facility, usually accompanied by a smell of rotten eggs.

White and her organization collected bucket samples of air from Werner Park neighborhood and sent them to a Colombia Analytical Services in California in April 2012. The lab reportedly found hydrogen sulfide and benzene in the air, which prompted a field investigation by the EPA. The analysis also reportedly uncovered high levels of ethanol, acrylonitrile and n-hexane.

Residents for Air Neutralization conducted another bucket sample test last month that reportedly found high levels of the substances still were present in the air.

“Lower-level exposure to benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion and unconsciousness. In most cases, people will stop feeling these effects when they are no longer exposed and begin to breathe fresh air,” EPA spokeswoman Jenna Durant said from the agency’s District 6 headquarters in Dallas.

Long-term exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause cancer, complications with blood and bone marrow and problems with reproductive organs, she said.
H2S, or “hydrogen sulfide, may cause irritation to the eyes, nose or throat. It may also cause difficulty in breathing for some asthmatics,” Durant said. “Brief exposures to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause a loss of consciousness and possibly death.”

Long-term, highly concentrated exposure to H2S can cause permanent or long-term effects such as headaches, poor attention span, poor memory and poor motor function, Durant said.

Despite a 2011 inspection that noted several procedure violations, the EPA has not asked Calumet to pay a fine or make any changes. The agency is negotiating with the company.

“We’ve just started talking to Calumet about what their RNP compliance and penalty will be. So nothing is set there,” said Durant, noted that the EPA also in talks with Residents for Air Neutralization to help both groups reach an agreement.

The EPA can issue several demands if it determines that Calumet’s Shreveport facility was in violation of agency standards. “For the most part, they are judged on a case-by-case basis,” Durant said. “In general, penalties can be anything from fines to mandating special environmental projects. Some companies have to build community health clinics.”

Calumet was found to be in violation in 2011, when the last inspection took place. No penalties have been levied against the company as a result. And the current negotiations revolve around how Calumet intends to prevent more violations.

Officials at Calumet in Shreveport did not respond to requests for comment.